April is National Stress Awareness Month with the goal of raising awareness of the impacts of stress. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 26% of respondents anticipate they will be more stressed in 2023 and their mental health will be worse. Two out of five adults ranked their mental health from “fair” to “poor.” When you have fewer stressors, you have increased emotional stability, better moods and overall superior health. This month is a time to pay special attention to how you can remain stress-free throughout your workday, and you can do that in very simple ways. You don’t have to quit your day job or even work fewer hours. You can continue your daily work routines while practicing stress reducers at the same time. The one thing you must do is have a stress awareness plan that you can practice at work.
A Stress Awareness Plan Keeps Job Stress At Bay
My 2023 New Years Resolution was to do one kind thing each day for someone—especially strangers. It has heightened my awareness of how important and easy it is to be kind to others without taking extra time. Plus, how simple it is to practice and how good it makes me feel (and hopefully the other person) in just minutes. A work stress awareness plan has the same effect. Here’s how it works. Simply choose one thing to commit to each day that you can accomplish in three to five minutes to mitigate stress during your workday.
A max of five minutes of chill a day can have mental and physical benefits to keep you engaged, calm and energized on the job. These short work breaks lead to higher job engagement and performance as well as better sleep, increased immunity, lower blood pressure, improved digestion and increased emotional well-being. In fact, research from scientists at North Carolina State University shows the value of what I call Microchillers or taking what the researchers call Microbreaks throughout the workday. These short breaks—I recommend five minutes or less—are effective energy management strategies as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking or having a five minute mindful meditation.
The major advantage of a work stress awareness plan is that it enlarges your perspective and helps you see the water you’re swimming in. A broad perspective allows you to take a bird’s-eye view of stress that’s building that you might not be aware of. On the way from the parking deck into your office building, instead of rifling through your day’s agenda, you can intentionally walk with present-moment awareness. Simply bring your attention to the sensations of your feet against the ground, note the feeling of the open sky or focus on as many different sounds as you can. You might hear a dog bark in the distance, birds tweeting, ambient traffic, a siren, an airplane, your own gurgling stomach or a heating or air conditioning unit.
The goal is to stay in the present moment and substitute curiosity for judgment. After you complete the exercise, notice the shifts inside your body and see if your breathing and heart rates are slower and you feel calmer and more clearheaded. Present-moment awareness also helps you focus on the many positive things in your workday that get eclipsed by stressful work pressures. Part of your work stress awareness plan can be learning to look for the upside of a downside situation; underscore positive feedback instead of letting it roll over your head; focus on the solution instead of the problem; pinpoint the opportunity in a difficulty, instead of the difficulty in the opportunity; refuse to let one bad outcome rule your future outlook; and take chances instead of letting fear hold the cards.
When you’re brimming with stress, your stress awareness plan can include the acronym W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Tantruming?) to stop yourself from reacting to coworkers who drag their feet on a deadline, talk over you in a meeting or take credit for your idea. This simple tool can keep you from flipping you lid and grounded until you can handle the situation in a more level-headed way. Another stress awareness plan can be as simple as making a “to-be list” alongside your to-do list that helps you manage stress. When you commit to a less stressful work life, you notice you can just be without requiring yourself to constantly do. Take time out to watch a sunset or a bird build its nest, listen to nature sounds around you or feel a breeze against your face. These activities recharge your batteries and contribute to job success.
When your inner critic lashes you for your shortcomings, give yourself the gift of a list of “tallcomings” to offset the criticism and a more balanced view of your capabilities. Throw modesty out the window, and make a list of your accomplishments, what you’re good at and the skills and talents you possess. As the day drags on, take a minute between work tasks to breathe deeply with three or four in-breaths. If you’re in a stressful Zoom meeting you can remain actively involved while practicing box breathing. And before heading into another appointment, take three or five minutes to walk around the block or stretch at your desk to reset your nervous system so you don’t take that stress with you into the next work situation. After long stretches of sitting in front of your screen, practice the 20-20-20 rule by looking 20 feet away from your computer every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. After practicing your work self-awareness plan, notice if you’re not calmer and more clearheaded.
A Non-Stressful Wrap-up
There are 1440 minutes in a day. A five-minute work stress awareness plan still leaves you 1,435 minutes to prepare for your presentation, meet a deadline or return emails in a calmer, more enjoyable and productive way.Watch your mind and notice where it goes from moment to moment for the next 24 hours. Notice the difference in the workflow when you’re present versus when your mind drifts to the past or future. And notice the difference between when you take a Microbreak before or after plowing through the work pile. If you catch yourself foregoing a break when you need it—even now as you read these words—take a five-minute Microchiller and notice the difference in your concentration, energy level and productivity. As you continue this practice, tension will subside, you’ll feel more relaxed and self-satisfaction and mindful productivity will soar. My guess is that you will feel so much better and so much more engaged and productive that you will want to make your plan a permanent fixture throughout your workday.