THE BLOG

Stressed Out at Work? How to Cope -- Without Turning to Food or Booze

02/20/2015 05:18 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015
Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

Big projects. Looming deadlines. Colleagues springing last-minute changes on you. Budgets to manage. Pressure to make cut-backs. Peoples' jobs on the line. Peoples' health, well-being or livelihood resting squarely on your shoulders.

Whether you make sandwiches for a living, perform open-heart surgery, or run a multi-national corporate conglomerate, there are always going to be workplace demands, pressures, and situations that test your patience... and inner peace.

It can be tempting to "escape" a stressful day -- or "reward" yourself for getting through a tough time -- with a pint of ice cream, a few cocktails, or both.

While the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine... but, over time? All those nightly "rewards" can expand your waistline -- while shrinking and diminishing your quality of life.

Not particularly rewarding, after all.

So how about being incredibly generous to yourself, and make time for these 5 psychologist-approved stress relief techniques. They can help you manage job-related stress without turning to food or booze -- turning, instead, to your own inner resources.

Your own inner strength. (You've got more than you think.)

1. Visualize Your Ideal Day, Right Away.
When you wake up in the morning, before you hop out of bed, visualize (or imagine) your entire workday as you'd like it to be. See yourself handling difficult situations with strength. See yourself communicating with clarity and grace.

Tell yourself: "I can create this kind of day. I can feel this way. I've got the strength."

(Professional athletes do this type of visualization before a big game. It's been shown to dial up positivity and improve performance. Very powerful!)

2. Stay Right Where You Are.
When you're feeling "stressed," it's generally because you've temporarily "left" the present moment. You are worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. Don't leave this moment. Stay right where you are.

Yes, of course, there are times where we all need to think about the future -- making a marketing plan, budgeting for the next quarter, or whatever your job demands. But there's a difference between "thoughtful planning" and flat out "worrying."

It's very difficult to work productively when your "emotional desktop" is cluttered with regrets, anger, unresolved grief about the past and / or anxiety about the future. Do everything in your power to return to the present. Trust that you can handle whatever is happening in this moment, gracefully. Breathe. Be here now.

3. Put Strong Emotions "On The Shelf."
Some days are incredibly tough -- it's true. Maybe you made a major mistake on a project, a colleague yelled at you inappropriately, or something happened outside of work that you carried into the office.

Pouring out your emotions is a healthy thing to do -- but obviously, work is not the ideal place to do it.Try to set strong feelings "on the shelf," temporarily, until you're in a more private, safe place. You're not "repressing" your emotions -- you're simply putting them aside until you can address them and release them properly.

Setting feelings aside is no different than prioritizing your to-do list. Some things you do now... others, you attend to later.

4. Once Work Is Over: Release Strong Emotions Safely.
When you release pent-up emotions safely and appropriately -- at home, in private -- that means you'll be able to walk into work the next day feeling light and unburdened. Way less stressed out!

There are safe ways to release strong emotions. The most effective method I know of, involves a form of psychodrama and catharsis. You literally thwack a pillow with a hand towel that's knotted on one end, while expressing your feelings out loud ("I hate my bossssss!" "I'm sooo stressed out!") until you feel a sense of relief.

(Curious? You can learn more about this particular technique inside my series of guidebooks on emotional health... or just give it a try! You might be surprised at the way this "thwacking" experience can turn around your entire day.)

5. Surround Yourself With Reminders Of Your Strength.
Tell a child "you are stupid" enough times, and pretty soon, that child will believe it. Over the course of your life, you may have "learned" to think about yourself in a certain way -- "You're weak and soft," "You're not creative," "You never do anything right" -- from your parents, teachers, or other authority figures.

Whatever hurtful, negative things you learned to think about yourself? You can un-learn them, too. Change the storyline by surrounding yourself with reminders of your strength and value.

You could choose a desktop wallpaper design for your computer that motivates and inspires you. You could play uplifting music through your headphones. You could put a photo of one of your personal heroes -- a teacher, a mentor, a favorite athlete or spiritual teacher -- by your desk.

Or write your favorite positive affirmation on a Post-It note and place it near your desk. Perhaps this one:

There is nothing I cannot handle. Nothing I cannot overcome. The strength inside of me is greater than anything happening around me.

Inspiring photos and positive affirmations won't "magically" change your life, but when combined with other practices (like the towel-thwacking technique described above, which purges pent-up emotions) these types of visual and verbal "reminders" can help you to stay calm, focused, and on track.

Above all, remember this:

Distractions will always be present at work. There will always be challenges and "fires" to put out -- no matter where you work, or what kind of position you have. (Even yoga teachers, cupcake bakers and watercolor painters have "drama" in the workplace, from time to time!)

You can't always control your environment, your colleagues' behavior, or what's going to "happen" on any given day at work. You're not "in charge" of everything and everyone around you. But you are in charge of your own emotions. You can choose to "let things get under your skin"... or you can choose to let things go, release negative emotions in a safe, healthy way, and move on.

You can choose to fret about the future or obsess over the past... or you can choose to stay right here, right now, engaged in your current task. Your feelings and behaviors are entirely your own.

And if you're feeling stressed? That's something you can change, right now, without needing your manager's "approval" or anybody else's permission. Your mind. Your day. Your job. Your life. You are in charge.