Stress and anxiety are common experiences for most people. Is there a way to maintain steady focus throughout the day? Is it possible to do everything that needs to get done and still have energy left over after work? How do you keep cool under so many demands? Informed by 10 years of research and field-tested by more than 6,000 clients and trainees, Melnick offers the following strategies to take your work stress down a peg, before it takes over your life.
Schedule your day for energy and focus
Most of us go through the day using a “push, push, push” approach, thinking if we work the full eight to 10 hours, we’ll get more done. Instead, productivity goes down, stress levels go up and you have very little energy left over for your family, Melnick says. She advises scheduling breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch at your desk or do a breathing exercise.
Even if you’re responsible for your behavior and outlook, you’re still left dealing with other people’s stressful behavior, the researcher advises that confronting a problem coworker or employee by stating the bad behavior in a respectful tone, describing the impact on the team and the individual, and requesting a change. For example, constant negativity might be addressed in this way: “When you speak in a critical tone, it makes others uncomfortable and less likely to see you as a leader.
Identify self-imposed stress
Learn to stop self-imposing stress by building your own self-confidence rather than seeking other’s approval, if you’re too caught up in others’ perceptions of you, which you can’t control, you become stressed out by the minutia or participate in avoidance behaviors like procrastination. Ironically, once you shift your focus from others’ perception of your work to the work itself, you’re more likely to impress them.
Cool down quickly
When you feel frustrated or angry, it’s a heated feeling in your body that can cause you to react, instead of immediately reacting—and likely overreacting try a “cooling breath” technique: Breathe in through your mouth as if you are sipping through a straw, and then breathe out normally through your nose. Done right, you’ll feel a cooling, drying sensation over the top of your tongue.
Change your story
Your perspective of stressful office events is typically a subjective interpretation of the facts, often seen through the filter of your own self-doubt, says Melnick. However, if you can step back and take a more objective view, you’ll be more effective and less likely to take things personally. She recalls one client who sent a request to human resources for more people on an important project. When she was denied, she immediately got angry and defensive, thinking they didn’t trust her to know what she needed. Yet she never stopped to even consider there might be budgetary issues on their end.
Eat right and sleep well
“Eating badly will stress your system,” says Melnick, who advises eating a low-sugar, high-protein diet. “And when you’re not sleeping well, you’re not getting the rejuvenating effects.” According to the CDC, an estimated 60 million Americans do not get sufficient sleep, which is a critical recovery period for the body. If racing thoughts keep you from falling asleep or you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, Melnick suggests a simple breathing trick that will knock you out fast: Cover your right nostril and breathe through your left for three to five minutes.
Most of us are bombarded during the day, Emails, phone calls, pop ins, instant messages and sudden, urgent deadlines conspire to make today’s workers more distracted than ever. While you may not have control over the interrupters, you can control your response. Melnick advises responding in one of three ways: Accept the interruption, cut it off, or diagnosis its importance and make a plan. Many interruptions are recurring and can be anticipated.
Act rather than react
We experience stress when we feel that situations are out of our control, It activates the stress hormone and, if chronic, wears down confidence, concentration and well-being. She advises that you identify the aspects of the situation you can control and aspects you can’t. Typically, you’re in control of your actions and responses, but not in control of macro forces or someone else’s tone.
Take a deep breath
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or are coming out of a tense meeting and need to clear your head, a few minutes of deep breathing will restore balance, says Melnick. Simply inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose. It’s like getting the calm and focus of a 90-minute yoga class in three minutes or less at your desk.