Dealing with stress comes with a heavy price: it costs employers billions of dollars a year and could be costing employees their health. A new study published in the latest journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows taking just a few simple steps every day at work can cut your stress dramatically.
To see if they could help reduce stress on the job, researchers turned to some of the most stressful jobs they could find: they recruited employees working in the surgical intensive care unit including Barbara Powell, a nurse whose stress got so bad it took a physical toll on her body.
"I've always had a knot in the back of my shoulder on the left side. (I tried) massages, chiropractic, stretching, exercises, but nothing worked," Powell said.
She was skeptical but signed up for an 8 week study at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center where researchers tested specific exercises to help reduce stress. Mariana Klatt led the study.
"We hear a lot about burnout. We hear a lot about stress but nobody gives us the coping strategies for the problem," Klatt said.
She taught classes in mindfulness including controlled breathing exercises, music therapy, even gentle yoga. It's been shown that yoga and cut stress and reduce blood pressure but Klatt wanted things employees could do on the job; the moment they feel the stress coming on.
"It looks seem less to your regular job with a lot of standing. With the nurses we did some stretches they can do standing and we did some sitting that they can do as they're doing charting," Klatt said.
To see if the coping strategies worked, Klatt analyzed saliva samples from employees and found chemicals related to stress had been reduced by 40%. Powell says she was pleasantly surprised to see such a big drop given how little it took to change her routine
"It didn't have to be an hour class or a two hour class. You can do it in a rather short period of time," Powell said.
Researchers say many of these coping techniques can be done on the spot and take only a few minutes at a time. Not only were stress levels lower in those who took part in the program but the risk of burnout was also reduced.
These are the three simple steps you can take today to alleviate stress through your work day.
1. Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and pause briefly after filling your diaphragm with air. Make your exhale twice as long as your inhale, says Dr. Klatt.
2. Get moving. Klatt suggests getting up and moving around if you are desk-bound during the day. "Some people's stress is from too much sitting," she says. During the current study, participants performed a modified, standing sun salutation by using their desk chairs as props.
3. Be mindful of stressors. Notice what activities or people have a tendency to make you feel overwhelmed or anxious. "Awareness is the first step in mindfulness," says Dr. Klatt. Once you determine what's causing you grief, you can find strategies for dealing with those tasks or colleagues to reduce your anxiety.