Dealing With Stress at Work

We all know stress affects our mental and physical wellness -- both in positive and negative ways.

Stress at work is what energizes us and stimulates our creative thinking. It is also what frustrates and exhausts us.

The reality is that bad stress levels at work are getting higher with each passing year. Studies show that there is a significant connection between unmanaged stress and rising health care costs. According to a study or 46,026 employees conducted by The HERO Group, workers with unmanaged stress had 46 percent higher medical costs than those without unmanaged stress. This study also showed that unmanaged stress was the second leading cause of rising health care costs.

Today's workplace isn't like your grandparents' -- we're connected to work as never before by cell phones, pagers, PDAs and laptops. So it is essential to learn techniques to keep us focused on our work, to keep us productive and to create enjoyment in each workday.

Tips for Dealing with Stress

Here are some tips to handle your workplace stress:

Exercise. We've all noticed top execs going to the gym at lunch. Well, there's a good reason, and it's most likely stress. Maybe you can't suit up with the CEO, but you can join the local "Y" for yoga or a swim, don running clothes in the restroom and jog around the building, or just go for a walk. Go shopping, go outside, change your environment for 30 minutes.

Manage your time. Prioritize tasks, write them down and enjoy crossing them off the list when they're done. Pick a level at which you will reward yourself (especially if you are unlikely to be patted on the back by someone else). Talk to your boss when the workload gets tough; the boss is there to help you make choices.

Turn off the cell phone and e-mail (at least for a little while). The constant interruptions of electronic devices disrupt our workflow to a significant degree. Resist the urge to answer immediately. Only check your cell phone calls and e-mail a few times per day. Although we have become a society of instant response, it is fine to wait a couple of hours before responding to most issues.

Watch what you eat. Many of us compensate by eating candy, lapping up fancy coffee drinks and consuming other goodies when we're stressed. That's only a temporary feel-good fix and will probably do more harm than good. By late afternoon, you will feel exhausted. Go for foods that give you real energy such as fresh fruit. Bring snacks from home; vending machines are dangerous. And occasionally, treat yourself with something you love but don't normally eat at work, such as shrimp and cocktail sauce. Food isn't the only thing that can get you down. Alcohol is another outlet people use to escape the hands of stress, but drinking alcohol could eventually lead to abuse, dependence and medical consequences. Be aware that alcohol is never the best stress management solution.

Take a short relaxation break. Take a few quiet minutes; close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Read the daily comics in your newspaper -- laughter is healthy. Send a brief e-mail to a colleague or prospect you haven't been in touch with for a while; chances are they need a day-brightener as well. Use common sense here; don't do it while you are on deadline or in a meeting.

Talk about it. Sometimes talking about your stress to family members or close friends is all it takes to provide you with needed relief. Another thing to keep in mind is that many companies offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in which you can call to talk about your stress with a professional counselor.

Feeling stress at work isn't a sign of weakness but a sign of the times. So, add "managing stress" to your "To Do" list.

Dennis Winslow, MSW, is a clinical social worker and manager of the BluePrint for Health Employee Assistance Program offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. The program provides assessment, referral and brief counseling services to hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees and family members.

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