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6 strategies for managing stress in the workplace (that might surprise you)

Workplace pressures are a given. What you do to handle the stress that comes with them, is not.

Check out some eye-opening, (and obviously, evidence-based) tips from the team of experts at Foundations for handling the ups and downs of getting things done on the job.

Because like it or not, we all get stressed at work from time to time. Deadlines, targets and challenging clients—not to mention the eternally annoying battle for the office thermostat—make some stress inevitable. Thankfully, there are numerous ways we can choose to manage it when it arises in ourselves and our employees.

When we discuss stress relief, we often focus on things like work-life balance and sleep hygiene. And that stuff is important. But this post is going to look at some more surprising, yet very evidence-based, strategies you and your team can use to handle stress at work.

So buckle up. Because here we go:

1. Unwind with laughter.

Laughing is beneficial to physical and mental health. Short-term, laughing ups your oxygen intake, stimulates your organs and releases stress-reducing endorphins. It activates and cools down your stress response, increasing then decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure, while promoting circulation and reducing muscle tension. The result is that you’re left feeling more relaxed than before you gave in to that attack of the giggles.

Laughter’s long-term benefits are well worth noting too. Laughing can strengthen your immune system, reduce pain, improve your mood and boost resilience.

And while it’s still not a good idea to directly tell people to turn their frowns upside down, smiling benefits wellbeing too. It releases neuropeptides that help reduce stress and activates the release of mood-boosting dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. And, as with laughing, smiling helps relax the body and can lower heart rate and blood pressure.

How you encourage laughing and smiling at work is up to you—the idea isn’t that people have to smile (or laugh at awkward jokes) when they don’t feel like it. The most important part? Creating a safe space where people feel comfortable being authentic and sharing their joy...and their struggles.

2. Unleash those tears

If you can’t laugh, cry. Research has found that releasing tears also releases negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety and stress. “Emotional tears” (tears shed when in an emotional state) have been found to contain stress hormones and toxins that can build up over time, harming our mental wellbeing. Crying helps us literally shed these emotions and also stimulates the production of endorphins.

We’re not saying an office full of weeping employees is something to aim for and ideally, a team is not so excessively stressed that they’re driven to tears. That said, we said it before, and we’ll say it again: Having a company culture that allows people to openly express themselves and let their feelings out in a safe and appropriate setting is beneficial to employees and businesses. Private mental wellbeing coaching sessions could help here, or perhaps one-to-ones with empathetic line managers or coworkers.

A man is upset and has his hand on his face.

Adrian Swancar via Unsplash.

3. Dance it out.

Our bodies play a key part in our cognitive and emotional processes and self-awareness of our sensations and movements, as well as our emotions, is vital to our wellbeing. According to the University of Derby, this awareness can be enhanced by embodiment practices, such as dance.

81% of studies of creative arts interventions for stress management (such as dance), reported a significant stress reduction in participants. So is it time to bring dance classes into your office/ Zoom meeting room? Maybe you could lead the way with some of your best moves from Zumba class!?

4. Escape into nature.

According to the University of Minnesota, being in nature, or even seeing a view of nature, heals us in a few ways. It reduces anger, fear and stress and increases feelings of wellbeing. Spending time in a natural setting reduces blood pressure, heart rate, bodily tension and even the production of stress hormones.

And sure, we’re not all lucky enough to live on the edge of a forest or by the beach, but many of us are within reach of a park or some trees and plants. So no excuses, get outside and take in whatever nature is within reach as often as you can and reap the benefits in selfies with trees and lowered stress levels.

5. Be kind, feel better.

Not that kindness should come with an ulterior motive…but, there are huge wellbeing benefits to being nice to other humans. It’s been found to increase oxytocin (the “love chemical”), energy, happiness, pleasure and overall life expectancy. And it decreases pain, depression, blood pressure, anxiety and yes—stress. In fact, people who are habitually kind have 23% less cortisol and age slower than other people.

Encouraging kindness at work again comes down to company culture and setting an example to employees: “No, let me make you that cappuccino!”

And don’t forget that you deserve some of that loving kindness, too! Being kind to yourself has physical and psychological benefits too, so take some time to think good thoughts about yourself and encourage employees to do the same. Need some help sending good vibes in your own direction? Try loving kindness meditation (available on many mental wellbeing apps).

6. Download some support.

Sure, smartphones can sometimes distract us from more important things, but they can also be beneficial for stress management. Science-based mental wellbeing apps, such as Foundations, can help employees learn practical techniques to boost their resilience to stress. And because such apps can be accessed on a smartphone, this support is available 24/7/365.

How do you manage stress at work? Share your tips with us at foundations@koahealth.com.