There's a lot of advice out there about how to handle stress at work — but most of it assumes that you're the boss, or at least someone powerful enough to demand that your office install some soothing non-fluorescent lighting. But while you might be stressed out like a boss, you might not yet have the kind of power needed to request that someone feng shui the filing cabinets. Luckily, there are plenty of work stress-relieving techniques that anyone working in an office can put to use immediately.
And odds are, you do need to put them to use immediately: the American Stress Institute estimates that work is the number one source of stress for Americans, with 40 percent of American workers claiming that they need help managing that stress. And if you work in an open plan office, those stresses become even more specific. Though open plan offices were created in hopes that their lack of structure would lead to free and spontaneous exchange of ideas between coworkers, numerous studies have pointed out that open plan offices come with their own set of pressures — many of them related to lack of privacy and noise complaints. And since 70 percent of American offices are now open plan offices, that's a lot of stress to deal with.
These five simple techniques can help you better manage office stress, which can make you more productive, more creative, and more able to have after-work conversations about things besides how stressed you are at work.
1. Get A Plant
Why It Helps: What can having a plant on your desk do? I mean, what can't it do? According to interior designer Sherry Burton Ways, maintaining something green and leafy by your work space can help "reduce absenteeism, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase positive feelings, lower noise levels, decrease room temperature and lower humidity."
And studies have shown that as few as three desk plants can reduce the CO2 level by 25 percent in a room with no air flow. Plants are also believed to encourage productivity, and researchers at Texas A & M University found that workers with plants nearby had more creative ideas than workers who just had to stare at their bare office walls or Mandy from Human Resources.
How To Put This Tip Into Action: Get a plant, any plant, and plop it down on your desk. And no matter your specific office requirements or personal flaws, there is a plant out there to suit your needs. Bad at remembering to water plants? Snake plants don't need to be watered very often at all. Work in an office with very little natural light? African violets, lucky bamboo, peace lilies, or other plants that thrive in low light can still keep you happy and remind you that there's a world out there beyond your TPS reports. And even if you work in Sub-Basement Three, jade plants can grow with nothing but the soothing glow of your fluorescent office lights.
2. Stand Up
Why It Helps: Surely by now you've read some of the studies about how sitting for your entire work day can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack, and negatively impact your overall health in ways that can't be fixed by popping out to the gym at six. But odds are, your job won't throw down for one of those schmany standing desks. Luckily for you, you actually don't need a standing model in order to avoid death by desk (in fact, standing all day can come with its own health problems, like leg, knee, and back problems). All you need to do is stand up throughout the day for short periods of time, to reap benefits like improved blood flow and increased metabolism.
How To Put This Tip Into Action: Experts recommend that you stand up twice an hour when you're working, which can be easily integrated into regular office activities like going to the supply room, using the bathroom, or checking the office fridge to see if anyone has left any cakes unattended.
And if you tend to get in the zone and lose track of time for hours at a stretch, there are plenty of apps that can remind you to keep your butt in motion, like Stand Up, which reminds you to stand up at the interval of your choice, or Smart Break, which also encourages you to take strategically-timed breaks that help you avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and similar typing-related problems.
3. See The Sun
Why It Helps: Many of us work in offices so densely packed and window-free that we have to chat nine different coworkers before we find someone who can tell us what the weather outside looks like. While you might be inclined to punch your own skylight through the weird particle board ceiling, there is a better way to get the sunshine that you need to keep your mind and body healthy: go outside. Crazy, right? I know. But it works! Since UV rays can't penetrate glass, you're going to have to actually get outdoors to reap the stress-relieving and sleep-improving benefits of sun exposure.
How To Put This Tip Into Action: According to experts, you may need anywhere from just a few to 20 minutes in the sun each day, depending on factors like your skin tone and the intensity of your sunscreen application — so you might have to get creative about how to find your time in the great-ish outdoors.
Try eating lunch at your desk and then taking a walk during your actual lunch break, or, if your work situation is just not conducive to mid-day sunny strolls, get some sun on the way to work, possibly by getting up a little earlier (sorry) and taking a longer walk during your commute.
4. Personalize Your Desk
Why It Helps: There's a trend these days towards so-called "lean" offices — that is, offices that look like sexy, streamlined spaceships, with no traditional office distractions like piles of papers or someone's collection of hideous big-eyed cherub figurines. These offices are usually assumed to lead to a sleeker, more productive work day, but the opposite is actually true.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Craig Knight, a psychologist at the University of Exeter, office worker productivity increased by 16 percent when workers were allowed to surround themselves with personal artifacts like art, plants, family photos, and hideous big-eyed cherub figurines. And a 2010 UK study found that workers who were able to personalize their workspace were one third more efficient than their decor-free counterparts.
How To Put This Tip Into Action: Bring in something that you like and keep it at your desk. Even if it's small, and even if you have to bring it home with you every day. This reminder of your life outside of work — whether it's a family photo or a limited edition framed Sharknado 2 poster — can help keep you going through your work day.
5. Block Out The Noise
Why It Helps: According to psychologist Nick Perham, the noise of open plan offices is the biggest irritant to the modern worker — it can prevent us from focusing completely on our projects, retaining and recalling basic information, and even doing simple math. But there is a way to cut through the noise: blocking it out can improve mood, cognitive functions, and other abilities that take a dive when we're exposed to office noise.
How To Put This Tip Into Action: A good set of noise-canceling headphones can help — they won't block everything out, but they can give you greater control over the sonic landscape that you're immersed in. But even regular headphones can give you a boost: listening to music can help improve your mood or achieve the kind of focus that can help you get some kinds of tasks done.
And, most importantly, playing our own music makes us feel like we have some control in the sometimes-chaotic open place office environment — which is psychologically worth its weight in gold (or at least its weight in sleek, streamlined office desks).
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