The current global pandemic is a major source of stress that can take a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health — and not just on your off hours, but during the workday, too.
Employees were already feeling plenty of work-related pressure: As many as 94% of American workers reported experiencing stress at their workplace in 2019, according to The American Institute of Stress. Work-related stress costs $190 billion in health care every year.
Among the reasons employees feel stressed out: "Being overloaded," says Rick Carson, psychotherapist and author of "Taming Your Gremlin." "Conflict with peers is another one. Scaring themselves about losing their jobs, especially, you know, given what's happening in the world. Now things like the coronavirus."
Here are four ways to relieve stress as you work.
Before you even sit down to work, make sure you've eaten.
"Do not skip breakfast," says Kathleen Hall, founder of The Stress Institute. "It helps you focus. You've got to have those amino acids in the morning for your brain."
The Mayo Clinic recommends a breakfast with both protein and good carbs, like a breakfast burrito with eggs, low fat cheese, and vegetables, a berry and yogurt parfait topped with low sugar granola, or steel cut oatmeal with berries.
"Prioritizing helps with stress," says Hall. Once you've prioritized, you may not feel as "flooded" with work.
Experts also recommend blocking your day into chunks of focused time in which you tackle one part of a big assignment, or a few small tasks uninterrupted, followed by a break.
Mindfulness, or observing what's happening in your mind and body, can calm you down when you feel like you're losing control of a situation, according to the University of Minnesota.
To practice mindfulness, experts at the university suggest sporadically checking in with how you're feeling emotionally and noticing if you're holding tension in your muscles or if your breathing is shallow.
Your breath is a barometer of your stress and anxiety. When it gets shallow, "it's telling you, 'OK, you're cutting off a lot of your life force,'" says Carson.
Deep breathing can slow down your heart rate and lower or stabilize blood pressure, according to the Harvard Medical School. When you find that your breathing has gotten more shallow, take a break to practice deep breathing, or belly breathing, as Carson calls it: "[Start by] taking in all of the air that you want and exhaling fully."
Take breaks throughout the day to eat lunch, take a walk, or catch up with a co-worker or friend.
"You've got to take breaks," says Hall. "The brain needs it and your body needs it. ... I don't care if you sit on a park bench or go to the bathroom, get away from your desk."
Taking this time can actually help you work more efficiently. Even a taking a short walk can help you reset and approach problems with a clear head when you return. A study at Stanford University found that walking improved the creativity of 81% of participants.
Reflection lets you separate yourself from the day's occurrences, learn from them, and improve in the future, according to The Harvard Business Review. This includes taking account what part of your daily routine might have caused you stress.
"You need to set a timer every day for 5 to 10 minutes to reflect," says Hall, who suggests doing so at the end of the day. "You'll be able to reflect on what you did that day [that] worked, what didn't work, how happy you are" before you end your day.
Relieving stress, says Carson, has less to do with outside stimulus and more to do with your awareness of how you feel physically and emotionally in a given moment and the kind of actions you then take to calm yourself down.
"It's primarily, not exclusively, but it's primarily an inside job," he says.