Work Stress: 11 Tips For Taking Control Without Leaving Your Desk

03/13/2013 12:57 am ET | Updated Mar 31, 2015
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When you're stressed at work, a two-hour deep tissue massage will probably do the trick. But alas, for most of us, a massage is not a feasible corporate expense.

Even so, it's important to keep our stress in check -- especially at the office. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that one-third of employees experience chronic stress related to work. Chronic stress has been associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, and can magnify a number of other health problems, including acne, obesity and depression.

"The problem is that no one is pausing in the middle of really busy days," Jon Wortmann, author of "Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence" and a HuffPost blogger, told The Huffington Post in an interview. "Making space for the normal stress of the day to recede has to happen on a regular basis."

But when you're so plugged into your work and the endless items on your to-do list, it can be hard to remember to check in with yourself. The solution? Making breaks a scheduled part of your day. "If you're stuck at your desk, build in five- to 15-minute breaks between meetings and tasks at least three times today," Wortmann says. It's imperative to make these breaks part of your schedule, just as you would a conference call or a presentation. While three 30-minute mind-clearing breaks a day is a ideal, just five minutes can make a difference. Without a break, "you will be less productive, you will be making mistakes and you will start to feel miserable," he says.

How to spend these mini-breaks depends on the person: Some may want to fool around on social media, some might sneak in a quick nap, and others may reboot by practicing a favorite meditation or breathing technique.

Still, at work, you are bound to experience unpredictable moments of stress that don't fit in neatly on your schedule. That's because stress is a normal response to our workday disasters -- "it's your brain telling you that things aren't quite right," Wortmann explains. "Even the Buddha would get up and walk away from [an aggressive boss]."

So what can you do when an unpredictable stress storm hits? Wortmann says "stepping back" -- taking a 20-second break from that stressful moment -- is enough to turn down the stress response in your amygdala. "The key is to step back from whatever drama, pressure or anxiety you're feeling and to remind yourself that you are in control of what you do with your life, what you feel and how you experience this moment." To remind yourself that you're in control, try a few of these "stepping-back" techniques below:

  • Listen: Just listen to your surroundings, the type of your coworkers' keys, your breathing.
  • Look: Look at a picture of your family, pet or a vacation spot you love.
  • Count: Wortmann quotes Thomas Jefferson, who definitely had it right: "When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100."
  • Sweep: Practice a mental sweeping of the chalkboard of your mind. Pause intentionally and visualize an eraser ridding any overwhelming thoughts.

Curious about other ways to de-stress at your desk? See some more tried-and-true techniques below that will enhance your productivity and help you feel far less frazzled. Then, let us know how you find a sense of office zen in the comments below.

De-Stress At Your Desk

For more on stress, click here.

This story appears in Issue 45 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, April 19.

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