Workplace stress can significantly affect someone’s well-being, both inside and outside work. Actively managing stress may help boost energy, productivity, and self-esteem.

Stress is a natural response to feeling unable to cope with specific situations, circumstances, or demands. The body is well-equipped to deal with short-term stressors. However, chronic stress can have serious implications for health.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a majority of Americans say that their job is a significant source of stress.

This article discusses ways to manage work-related stress in order to prevent burnout and help a person maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Many people may underestimate how much stress affects them. It may benefit a person to take note of the times and situations in which they feel emotionally exhausted or pessimistic, such as at the end of the workday.

Chronic stress can have a profound effect on a person’s physical and mental health.

A 2019 review of studies suggested that there may be a connection between burnout relating to workplace stress and anxiety and depression. However, the review was inconclusive and the authors argued that further research is necessary.

According to the APA, symptoms of stress include:

There are many ways to reduce and manage stress, such as getting the right amount of sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, and maintaining a strong social support network of family and friends.

A person may also wish to try proactive relaxation techniques to calm the mind and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which people sometimes call the rest and digest system.

Meditation

According to recent research, mindfulness meditation may help reduce markers of physiological stress, according to a 2017 review of studies. It may do this by:

As well as mindfulness meditation, a person can try many different types of meditation to reduce their stress levels.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a form of deep breathing practice in which a person fully engages the diaphragm, which is a large muscle sitting below the lungs that helps them expand and contract when inhaling and exhaling.

This technique may help reduce cortisol levels, according to a 2017 study.

To perform diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Lie on a flat surface with pillows beneath the head and knees for support.
  2. Place a hand on the middle of the upper chest (the breastbone).
  3. Place the other hand on the belly, above the diaphragm but slightly below the rib cage.
  4. When inhaling, breathe slowly in through the nose, drawing the breath downward in the direction of the stomach so that the stomach expands upward against the hand as the chest remains still.
  5. When exhaling, contract the stomach muscles and allow them to fall downward. Purse the lips while exhaling and keep the chest still.
  6. A person should repeat this practice for 5–10 minutes each time for around 3–4 times per day.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery is a relaxation exercise that involves visualizing tranquil environments.

Imagining a tranquil setting may help someone to manage their stress by distracting them from intrusive thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral theory suggests that emotions come from thoughts. Because of this relationship between thoughts and emotions, if a person can manage their intrusive thoughts, it may make any accompanying emotions easier to manage.

Imagery uses all five senses to facilitate deep relaxation. People can practice guided imagery themselves or use a smartphone app or online tool to follow along with a narrator to help guide them.

To practice guided imagery, a person can:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position in an environment with as few distractions as possible.
  2. Visualize a calming environment, either from memory or by imagining one (for example, sitting by the sea at the beach or on a mountain). Conjure elements of this environment using each of the senses by answering these prompts inside the mind:
    • What is there to see? (For example, a blue sky with white clouds.)
    • What is there to hear? (For example, crashing waves.)
    • What is there to smell? (For example, seaweed or barbecue smoke.)
    • What is there to taste? (For example, salty sea air.)
    • What sensations are there to feel? (For example, sand between the toes or warm sun on the skin.)
  3. Maintain this image in the mind as long as necessary or able. At the same time, focus on slow, deep breathing and the feelings of calm associated with this relaxing environment.

Receiving support from a supervisor or boss may help reduce someone’s feelings of workplace stress or burnout.

A person can try scheduling time to talk with their manager and calmly discuss any feelings that may concern them, such as feeling overwhelmed by certain tasks. They should try to approach this discussion from a solution-finding angle, rather than simply listing grievances.

For example, a person could ask their manager to discuss and define together what their manager expects of them outside of working hours if they find that work responsibilities are creeping into their home life in a way that causes them stress.

If someone feels apprehensive about discussing certain topics with their manager, they can try reaching out to their company’s HR department. An HR professional may be able to help someone discuss work stress with their manager or offer further advice.

Disconnecting from their professional responsibilities and duties may help a person unwind and relax and have a re-setting effect.

Taking a vacation does not have to involve a trip overseas. It could be as simple as a trip out of town overnight or even staying at home and disconnecting from thoughts of work by engaging in leisure activities, such as:

  • reading
  • going for a walk
  • watching television
  • cooking
  • taking a relaxing bath

Occasional stress is a natural response to the ups and downs of life. However, if a person believes they are experiencing chronic stress, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

A doctor may refer a person to a mental health professional or help them identify sources of stress in their life and manage these stressors accordingly.

Workplace stress can negatively affect a person’s life both at work and at home, especially if they do not know how to manage it.

To manage stress, people may try techniques such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, or taking time off from work to focus on rest and relaxation.

If someone has concerns about chronic stress, they should speak with a doctor, who may refer them to a mental health specialist.