Zoom fatigue, working long hours, the inability to turn off work at night, and constant notifications on mobile devices have become a way of life during the pandemic—but our inability to manage workplace stress is nothing new. To combat this and to preserve employee mental health, we have to understand how stress improves and impedes us. 

“What overwhelms people the most is often not the stress itself, but the perception of a lack of control or one’s ability to feel like they have choice,” said Dr. Christelle Ngnoumen, senior behavioral scientist at Headspace, a meditation app. “Taking a mindful approach to stress builds up self-efficacy, especially in the workplace. Mindfulness training can help a person understand that they have choice. People get stressed when they feel like they have limited choices.”

What you can do to reduce your workplace stress

Bad stress can reduce productivity and lead to burnout. When we feel like we’re trapped in a job, saddled with expectations we didn’t choose, and forced to complete work that doesn’t fulfill us, stress will start to build up, and can eventually lead to burnout. According to the World Health Organization, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

“Some techniques, like deep breathing and relaxation meditation, are available to us pretty much anywhere and anytime we need it. Others, like spending time in nature or doing yoga, may take a little more planning. Mindfulness and meditation can also be used to more effectively exercise choice and allow us to change the way we react to situations and to stressors,” says Ngnoumen. If we practice meditation and mindfulness, we can tap into the feelings we cultivate in our practices when work or life gets us feeling stressed out. 

In addition, it’s important to take breaks from your work. Ngnoumen advises you to block out times during the day to take breaks. “We know it’s important to take time periodically throughout the day to step away from your desk and take a break. At Headspace, we have two no-meeting periods at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. where we encourage the team to take a mindful break (participate in our group meditation, take a walk, read a book or take some time for themselves).”

Company policies can reduce workplace stress as well

Consider your company’s policies regarding time off, breaks, required working hours, physical health, and how those policies might affect the choices that employees make. How do your policies and benefits support physical health initiatives like exercising regularly and attending yearly physicals? 

Most of all, how do your company’s policies support the individual needs of employees and their families, and how can you foster greater communication between employees and leadership on these issues? Ngnoumen says, “In light of COVID-19, we also believe compassionate leadership is key for organizations. It’s important to keep in mind that while we’re all in this together, each person has unique life circumstances that may cause more or less acute concern. Leading with compassion and empathy is more critical than ever.”