How to Deal with Stress at Work

Mental healths
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 In This Series 

What is Stress and Where Does it Come From?

The term “stress” originated in physics, where it is used to describe the physical pressure on an object, as exerted by, say, an angry fist on an egg, or Godzilla’s foot on a car.

Researchers also discovered a handy acronym – NUTS – to describe the causes of stress in people, those ingredients being:

  • Novelty, or new experiences;
  • Unpredictability, a fear or lack of confidence about what’s just around the corner;
  • Threat to the ego, or being made to feel somehow inept;
  • Sense of control, or a perceived challenge to it.

These situations have been generating stress in humans since long before the dawn of industry and its infernal demands on employees' time and imagination. 
In fact, it’s the same chemical process as the ancient “fight or flight” response, in which the body releases “stress hormones”, such as adrenalin, to get the body ready for action, or cortisol which helps focus the mind, to help combat real or perceived threats.

The NUTS pressures get the stress hormones bubbling regardless of age, status, post code or education; in children as easily as in CEOs.

All this energy then has to go somewhere, which is why at times it emerges as anger, or a vigorous and lengthy bout of self-criticism.

Sometimes, it’s useful – that intensity comes in handy on plenty of occasions. At other times it can just wear you out. That particular biological system is not supposed to be switched on all the time, and it can provoke more serious problems.

One simple key is to try and be aware of when the physical symptoms of stress (thumping heart, sweating, jumpiness) occur. That way you’ll have identified the circumstances of the problem, and you can start taking steps to locate and deal with it. And all that spare energy? Find an outlet for it and refuel properly.

How to Deal With Stress

Smile like you mean it

Grinning like The Joker may not come naturally when under pressure, yet a 2012 Psychological Science study proved even a fake smile can yield psychological uplift. How so? For all its magnificence, the human brain can’t tell the difference between real and sham smirks, so even the bogus ones baffle stress and improve mood.

Watch cat videos

A 2015 Computers In Human Behaviour journal report said that watching gifs of, say, cats pondering toasters, are a valid form of stress relief. If the videos also make you laugh, you’ll ease muscle tension, boost blood flow to the brain and cleanse the lungs. Good work, Grumpy Cat.

Outsource your life

Until someone in the Old Street area develops an app to slow time to a crawl, there’ll never be enough hours in the day. But as Harvard Business Review research suggests, as many as 41% of workplace tasks can be delegated. If transferring stress down the chain of command doesn’t appeal, companies such as Brickwork India help you outsource admin – from managing email, doing research, even buying anniversary gifts – to a virtual assistant.

Apply some pressure

If you don’t have time to go full pin-cushion, heed the wisdom of acupuncture therapist Bryan Clark and firmly pinch your thumb and index finger together for two minutes. This stimulates the adrenal glands which are responsible for releasing adrenaline and cortisol (a hormone that sharpens the senses) into the bloodstream to do battle with stress.

Embrace the dark side

While junk food is your mortal enemy in conquering stress, dark chocolate has been found to improve mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, plus a heap of cardiovascular benefits; so says a 2009 Proteome Research study. You’ll need at least 70% cocoa to feel the benefit, so no Snickers, not you…

RECOMMENDED: Mindfulness Exercises and Apps Even Cynics Will Want to Try

Team Up to Fight Stress


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Team activities and physical exercise are two great ways to take on the S-word, so why not introduce them to each other? Research shows that those who participate in team sports are happier and have higher levels of life-satisfaction – perfect for fighting the effects of workplace stress. And when it’s a work team things are even better: it allows you to demonstrate that you can be a leader (should you so desire), see colleagues in a different light and raise morale. Plus it’s a great excuse to go for guilt-free food and drink afterwards.

Great Newham London Run team relay

If you’ve ever wanted to break the tape in a bona fide stadium, but didn’t think you had it in you to compete at that level, here’s a spectacular shortcut. The Great Newham London Run team relay splits 20km between four people, and it takes place inside the former Olympic Stadium and finishes on the athletics track. Olympic Stadium, Stratford, E20, July 14, £120 per team,

AJ Bell London Triathlon

The world’s biggest triathlon offers a relay option allowing each member of a trio to take on the swim, cycle or run depending on preference. ExCeL London, E16, Aug 6-7, from £114.20 per team,

Deaddrop: The Bank Job

A major bank heist is planned in London, and you and your teammates can join either the cops in an attempt to foil the plot, or the robbers, to ensure its success. Secret Central London Location, July 9, £26pp,

Crystal Maze

De-stress your entire workforce in this stunning recreation of the 90s show that allows you to solve a selection of challenges (mental, mystery, physical and skill) together. White Lion Street, London, N1, corporate teams from £125 per person,

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