Office Zen: 29 Ways to Reduce Stress At Work


If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced office stress in the workplace.

According to the American Psychological Association, most people suffer from moderate to high levels of stress thanks to – you guessed it, work and money.

Stress threatens our health, finances, relationships and families. It seems like every day there is a new study linking stress with disease, substance abuse, breakdown of relationships, and countless other negative effects on our health and wellbeing.

With this in mind, it has become increasingly important to find ways to unwind from work stress before it manifests in your life.

To help make things for you, we’ve put together a list of our 29 simple ways to reduce workplace stress. These are little things you can change (without any management help or approval) that can help you feel dramatically better at the office and less stressed when you get home.

Try for yourself and see how these simple hacks can reduce work stress for you.

1. Practice 5-minute meditation upon waking

It is easy to let a stressful start set a negative tone for the rest of the day. Be sure to ground yourself for a few minutes each morning before you even begin preparing for your work. A simple 5-minute meditation can significantly transform your day by helping you establish inner peace, reduce stress and anxiety, and rebalance before stepping out into the world.

2. Eat your lunch away from your desk

So many of us get caught up in work tasks that we forget to eat lunch entirely or end up stuffing our faces at our desk between calls and meetings. Lunch and any other meal time is an opportunity to distance yourself from work and fully become engaged with the food you are energizing your body with. Step away from your desk so that you can truly enjoy your lunch, the tastes, textures, and smells of your delicious foods. If there is a nearby park, you might even choose to sit outside and allow the natural beauty around you to further inspire your experience.

3. Take regular breaks

Break time is necessary in all professions. Regardless if you work in a physically demanding profession or not, your mind and your body both need adequate time to relax. It is often during the times that we are away from our desks that the most inspired and creative thoughts come to us.

4. Bring healthy snacks

Avoid the temptation of gorging on all those unhealthy processed foods lingering around the office. From vending machines full of candies and potato chips, to baked goods in the kitchen, to soda machines. Pack sufficient snacks for work that are healthy, easy to prepare, and won’t send your sugar levels soaring only to crash shortly after. You can save yourself lots of money and empty calories too!

5. Use essential oils

Essential oils offer immense benefit for the office environment. They are an affordable, natural, and easy-to-use product that can quickly purify the air and promote good mood.  Rosemary essential oil for example has been found to be effective at reducing stress levels while also increasing concentration. Other oils such as lavender are frequently used to relieve symptoms associated with anxiety and might aid in decompressing from a challenging meeting. Use essential oils to help bring you back to a calm mindful practice.

6. Add some color to your environment

Color plays a role in influencing our mood. If your office is particularly dull in decor (like so many are), add a splash of color to your work environment. Use colored pens and notebooks, bring in colorful pictures for your desk, and why, not add some brightness to your outfit!

7. Keep a clean desk

If you have to dig through piles of paper and unidentifiable work junk just to find a pen, it’s about time you spruced up your workspace. De-clutter your desk by filing regularly, eliminating unnecessary clutter, and becoming mindful of what you bring back to your desk. One simple step is to go paper-free where possible and keep the majority of your files digital. You’ll have all the information you need conveniently stored on your computer, you’ll save trees, and your desk will be empty! Try not to get in the habit of collecting pens, stationery, and other items that aren’t essential. Minimize your work “stuff” to the bare minimum and keep it organized for a more peaceful workspace.

8. Avoid multi-tasking

Multi-tasking is the perfect recipe to get little done, and even less done well. Instead of trying to do “a million things at once”, focus your attention on one task. If you have several projects ongoing as most of us do, set aside time for each. Break down your day into time slots, and allocate specific tasks for each window. This will keep you from bouncing from one thing onto the other until you have successfully crossed off an item from your to do list.

9. Bring a plant

Plants in the office are a great way to add life, color, clean air, and relaxation. Whether you prefer colorful cut flowers, water-dwelling bamboo, or a blooming orchid, it doesn’t really matter. Choose a plant that can survive in your office conditions (low-light, hot or cold temperatures, etc.). Find something low-maintenance that you can keep comfortably by or on your desk and will really enjoy.

10. Step away from the drama

It’s no doubt that offices can be stressful environments and lead to rumors and gossip. Be aware of the nature of discussions and avoid joining in when others are complaining or speaking unkindly about fellow co-workers. These types of discussions can cause negative relationships between colleagues and seriously undermine the workplace morale. Be mindful of the topics of discussion, and try to avoid that perpetuate unnecessary drama and tension.

11. Leave work in the office

According to a recent study, we waste an average of 34 minutes per day at work slacking off. Instead of having to stay late in the evenings, avoid the temptation to waste time while you’re at the office so that when the day is over, you can head home on time and leave your work responsibilities at work. Leaving work at work is more than just keeping your files and computer at the office. It means that you must become completely disengaged with all tasks when your workday is over. Avoid checking your work phone, emails, or dwelling on work stresses. If you constantly feel like you are in work mode, you risk losing out on all the amazing experiences in your normal life.

12. Take time off

Use your vacation days. Despite the popular belief that foregoing vacation time to show dedication to your employer might work to your advantage, a recent study by Oxford Economics found the opposite to be true. Employees who left behind 11-15 days of unused vacation were 6.5% less likely to get a raise or a bonus compared to their colleagues who took time off. Those who didn’t take the holiday time were also much more stressed. Do yourself a favour and take some well-deserved time off to relax, unwind, and have a little fun! You’ll be more rested, less stressed, and in a better mindset to return to work.

13. Avoid stimulants

The office coffee and espresso machines are very tempting when you’ve been operating on little sleep or feel like you need an afternoon pick-me-up. How often do you chug down a coffee or a soda only to feel the crash later on? Over 90% of Americans consume caffeine, a psychoactive drug through coffee, tea, or soda each day. Instead of relying on stimulants such as caffeine or sugar to keep you fuelled, opt instead for a glass of water, a piece of fruit, or some kind of healthy snack.

14. Stretch

Whether you are sitting at a desk or computer all day or standing in a shop, take several moments to stretch. Being sedentary wreaks havoc on the body. ** A couple simple (yet discrete) stretches can have a huge impact on stress reduction, injury prevention, and improved circulation. If you sit all day, try to get up and go for a walk, whether it is around your floor, building, or grounds. Also, take some time to step away from your desk and go for a walk. Even if it is a loop around your floor or up and down the stairs a few times, get your body moving and blood circulating.

15. Stay rested

If you are coming into work already exhausted, you aren’t setting yourself up for a great day. Getting sufficient sleep helps you stay focused, improve memory, recover more quickly from distractions and help prevent burn-out. You will also feel more rested, relaxed and in a better frame of mind to make decisions. Set yourself up for success by being mindful of the amount of sleep you get and adjusting your schedule accordingly to help promote rest and wellness.

16. Celebrate micro-victories

Don’t ever be afraid to be proud of your accomplishments. If you don’t take time to acknowledge your successes and micro-victories, you are quickly going to become discouraged. Take it upon yourself to recognize your achievements. At the end of each day, spend a moment to reflect on what you did well and all the good that came out of your efforts. Don’t wait for recognition from others, celebrate your own successes now!

17. Be comfortable

Small changes in your workspace can have dramatic effects on your level of comfort, health, and productivity. Seek out the most ergonomic options for your work style to reduce unnecessary strains and injuries and to improve performance. Similarly, before you make your next office wear purchase, ask yourself – is this going to be comfortable? Sure everyone wants to look good at work, but if you aren’t remotely comfortable, you will be distracted and less productive. Find a balance between fashion, comfort, and practicality.

18. Walk around

Being sedentary, especially sitting at your computer screen for hours on end can lead to many negative health conditions and severe illnesses such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Light activity, even just two minutes of walking around every hour was found to reduce mortality rate by 33% according to a recent study. Furthermore, stepping away from your desk gives you the opportunity to separate yourself from work and bring your attention back to breathing where you can clear your mind, unwind, and recalibrate from your tasks.

19. Listen to music

Music is a quick and effective way to change your mood. If you just left a super stressful meeting and find yourself very tense, part of your unwinding process might be to slip on your headphones and listen to some music. Music in the work environment has also been found to reduce distractions, improve focus, and make you less sleepy.

20. Find a quiet space

Most people these days have had to give up their own office space for shared open concept cubicle style work environments. If you are in one of these situations, it is important that you find yourself a little quiet space at work. Whether it is outside on a bench, in a vacant boardroom or an empty office, seek out these little refuges. Use this area regularly to return to your breath, relax, or simply unwind after a stressful call.

21. Take a moment

Give yourself permission to take a few moments throughout the day to step back and focus on yourself. Take this time to check-in and see how you feel. Notice if you are feeling particularly anxious or calm. How does your body feel, relaxed or tense? Are you holding your breath or breathing in a peaceful rhythm? Take several moments throughout the day to look after yourself and honor whatever your body needs. Whether it is to get up for a few moments and step away from your desk, a warm cup of tea, or a few squeezes of a stress ball. Take a moment and ask yourself, how am I feeling?

22. Practice gratitude

Learn to express gratitude to your colleagues. Take the time to genuinely thank people for their hard work and efforts. Notice the little things people do, acknowledge the added efforts and dedication whenever there is an opportunity to do so. The more people feel appreciated and valued, the more positive the work environment will become.

23. Set a breathing reminder

Far too often, we get in the habit of holding our breath. Set several reminders throughout the day that will encourage you to stop and focus on your breathing. It can be just for a few moments, but that awareness will become a habit if you nurture it. Regularly set aside some time where you can quiet your mind by drawing your attention to your breath. Take several big belly breaths and follow the exhale with your attention. Notice how much more relaxed your body becomes after just a few brief moments of conscious breathing exercises.

24. Keep a planner (before /after work)

Keeping a planner is a great way to stay organized. You can add notes and schedule work tasks to stay on track and attentive to one project at a time. Make it a habit that at the end of the day to take a few moments to schedule tomorrow’s tasks. You’ll save time in the morning and will start off your day organized and simplified. Keeping an up-to-date planner will help to both sort out and prioritize your to-do list making you more productive and less stressed.

25. Use a stress ball

The repetitive motion of squeezing and releasing stress balls has been associated with reduced stress and tension. By actively engaging and releasing these muscles, you not only strengthen your hands, but learn how to let go. Other benefits associated with stress balls include increased blood circulation with helps with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis symptoms. Use the ball regularly throughout the day to help your hands relax and to realign your focus with your breath. Try breathing in and squeezing the ball, and breathing out, releasing your grip. Do this throughout the day and enjoy the immense benefits of this simple practice.

26. Get the worst done first

If you have some particularly challenging or stressful tasks ahead of you, get them done first thing in the morning. Instead of letting the anticipation linger and tension fester, strike off the worst tasks from your to-do list right away. Set a plan the night before and budget yourself with enough time to get this item off your plate. Once you’ve completed this task step away from your desk for a few moments and take this opportunity to check in with yourself. Maybe go for a quick walk, do some stretches, or enjoy a short break. You’ve earned it!

27. Schedule your time

If you are regularly taking time out of your day to help others, be sure to budget sufficient time for your own tasks. It is very easy to become distracted at work and in order to best serve others as well as getting your tasks done to the best of your ability, it can be highly beneficial to schedule office hours. Set aside time for mentoring and assisting colleagues as well as time where you focus exclusively on your own work. Block off time in your calendar and kindly advise people that you are unavailable for the next few hours but would be happy to help them at a specific time.

28. Decompress before you leave the office

Before you leave the office, start to decompress from your work day. Actively release any pent-up stress or frustration at the office. Let go of things that you cannot change while still in your workspace, even before you step out into your daily commute. You’ll be a safer driver, feel more relaxed and will be less likely to drag work stress home with you.

29. Enjoy life outside of work

Americans working full-timers spend around 47 hours per week at their job with 4 in 10 of these people working an excess of 50 hours (50 hours). With only 168 hours in the week (56 of these on average dedicated to sleeping), there aren’t many hours to spare! Be sure that you invest in some quality time to enjoy the activities which you are most passionate about and that bring you joy. Time is sacred, make the most out of yours by doing what you love. Be active, get creative, have fun and live your life to the fullest. Work will seem less daunting when you realize it is funding your incredible life.

Take away

There are lots of small things you can do to relieve stress at work.

Remember that meditation can be part of your daily routine at the office.

Use your time away from home to practice mindfulness whether you’re in a meeting, on your commute, or filling out spreadsheets.

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