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How Can I Reduce Stress Within the Work Environment? Part 1

As the return to “normal” quickly approaches, so too does the return to working in an office, changing out of sweatpants and socializing with colleagues. If this thought stresses you out, or if you’ve begun working from the office and are feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. While these feelings are very valid and real, they are not permanent. Humans are incredibly adaptable and resilient beings, as we saw March of last year. While there will certainly be growing pains, as a society we will adapt to this shift as well. Hopefully, we’ve learning some things about ourselves, our priorities, and our perspectives that will influence how we reapproach work and the presence and importance it has in our lives. While how we approach and show up in the work environment may change, the reality of, at some point, having to return to the office is pretty clear. So, if we have to go back into the office, how can we best manage the stress and anxiety that likely accompanies this change?

It’s important to know the difference between stress and anxiety in order to deal with each effectively. We become stressed when we feel the things, we have to do are more than we can handle. Attempting to manage multiple things at the same time, whether work, personal or both, is likely to cause stress. Some symptoms of stress include difficulty sleeping or lower quality sleep, changes in breath and heart rate, irritability, fatigue, and headaches. Anxiety, however, is more intense and typically follows stress that is ignored and left unmanaged. While stress tends to pass when all the tasks/triggers are eliminated, anxiety tends to linger much longer. Some symptoms of anxiety include difficulty concentrating, excessive worry, impatience, the need for control, feeling nervous/tense, and fixation on thoughts/events from the past or future.

What this information tells us is it’s incredibly important to recognize and deal with our stress levels, if possible, before it morphs into anxiety. This means, creating a to-do list and tackling one task at a time instead of attempting to multitask. It also means cultivating self-awareness in order to recognize when you’re feeling stressed as quickly as possible. It’s important to know our strengths and weaknesses, limits and triggers so we can modify how we show up in our work environments. Lastly, positive self-talk is incredibly helpful. This can allow you to identify and challenge the negative intrusive thoughts that may present themselves in order to create and enforce more positive thought patterns.

A great way to begin developing a heightened level of self-awareness and managing stress and anxiety is through cultivating a mindfulness practice. When we become stressed, it’s not uncommon to feel like our thoughts are all over the place. This may be why it’s so difficult to concentrate or why we feel we’re forgetting or neglecting things outside of work. If our stress starts to morph into anxiety, we may find ourselves spinning around something that has happened in the past or something that may happen in the future. It’s common to hear people say that anxiety takes place in the past or in the future but not in the present which is pretty accurate. As the spinning continues, we become fixated everywhere but in the present moment. That’s where mindfulness comes in. 

Practicing mindfulness is all about staying in the present moment. Studies have shown that “present-moment awareness, a key feature of mindfulness, increases our ability to be resilient when we’re stressed”. In addition, research has “suggested that if we’re aware and present in the middle of stressful situations, we’re more likely to be resilient because our attention is focused on the matter at hand rather than wasting precious energy on other things.” The key to fostering mindfulness is simply slowing down. When we’re moving 100 mph it’s impossible to be grounded and present. If we can slow down and take in the world around us, looking at our surroundings on walks, paying attention to how food tastes when we’re eating it, we become more present and mindful. There are many mindfulness apps and YouTube videos to help start this journey.

I hope these tips have been helpful! More to come in part 2 of this blog post!

If you’ve found yourself struggling with stress related to returning to work or functioning within the work environment, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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