Scientifically Proven Ways to Reduce Stress at Work

By Martha C. White

There’s been workplace stress as long as there have been workplaces, but if you think you’re more stressed now, you’re probably right. “Ability to do their job well and therefore keep their job is a major stress for most employees, especially in a fluctuating economy,” says Heidi Golledge, co-founder of Career Bliss.

But this doesn’t mean you’re relegated to spending 40 hours (or more!) each week as a bundle of nerves. Social scientists who study how, when and why our jobs stress us out have these recommendations:

Sit up straight-Your mother probably told you to sit up straight, but she probably didn’t know good posture can affect how well you do on the job. “Your posture influences psychology and that influences behavior,” says Andy Yap, a post doctoral associate and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yap conducted experiments and found that when we sit in tight, contracted positions — like squeezed into a too-small seat or hunched over our phone — we feel more stressed and less powerful. “Power buffers you from stress,” he says.

If your desk or workstation is cramped, see if you can move things around to give yourself a little more physical (and mental) breathing room. If that’s not an option, periodically strike “power poses,” where you take up more space and stretch out a bit.

Get organized –Researchers at UCLA found that just looking at clutter can spur the body’s production of stress hormones, so working in a messy office or cubicle can make you stressed even if the work itself isn’t high-stress. It’s OK to start small. “We know from research that little acts of neatness cascade into larger acts of organization,” UC Berkeley sociologist Christine Carter tells CNN. Tackle that pile of papers you never get around to filing, or the overflowing inbox.

Abandon unrealistic goals -Ambition is good, but sometimes we can fall into the trap of setting goals for ourselves that are too high, which just discourages us when we fail to reach them. Peter Creed, a psychology professor at Griffith University in Australia, studied nearly 200 college students and noted how they reacted when faced with an unachievable goal. “When contemplating unachievable goals, those with a higher capacity to adjust their goals… report less distress, more career planning, and more exploration.” Like many other things in life, being able to be flexible is key.

Aim high, but with the understanding that you can go back and change those goals. “Taking pride in everything you do, no matter how big or how small, is key to confidence and success,” Golledge says.

Try to avoid interruptions- Yes, it can be easier said than done when your phone is ringing and your voicemail light is already flashing, your email inbox is filling up and a co-worker sticks their head in to ask a question. But researchers in Germany found that addressing interruptions rather than staying focused less to stress. “Workflow interruptions had detrimental effects on satisfaction with one’s own performance, the forgetting of intentions, and irritation,” they wrote.

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