Join me in doing a body scan, if you will. Take a deep breath and turn your attention inwards. Starting at your toes and moving your way up, notice how each part of your body feels. See where you might be holding tension, where you feel light—even paying attention to where your body makes contact with the surfaces beneath you. We’re not judging it or trying to change anything; just noticing. Close your eyes, if you’d like, and take as much time as you need. Then when you’re ready, take another deep breath and flutter your eyes open.
This is a grounding exercise. It’s a way of coming back to your body, to yourself, to the present moment when you feel a little disconnected. And as humans living in a busy, demanding world, most of us don’t get enough of these little moments.
Grounding exercises are a form of meditation, one of many stress management tools to keep in your toolbox. But it also shows how stress lives in the body, not just the mind.
Whether you’re “just a little stressed” or know you’re at risk of burnout because you don’t know how to relieve stress, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to get into the nitty gritty about the very real impacts of work-related stress, ways employers can limit the effects of a stressful job, and strategies for coping with stress in any aspect of life. Because mental health shouldn’t be taboo, and you deserve to have skills on how to manage stress at work and beyond. Ready? Let’s go!
All About Stress
Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room: stress. We’ve all felt it. And as much as we try to breathe through it, bury it down, or pretend it helps us “work better,” we know it’s there. In particularly stressful times, that elephant in the room can feel like it’s sitting right on our chest.
What Is Stress, Anyway?
Stress is the body’s response to threatening situations. It’s a natural human process that’s kept us alive in the presence of danger for thousands and thousands of years. These perceived threats are called stressors, and no, they typically don’t involve actual life-threatening dangers. But our brain and body don’t know that.
Initially, our stress responses protected us from environmental dangers like hungry predators chasing after us. And though we don’t spend much time fleeing the likes of bears anymore, our bodies can’t discern that from lower-stakes stressors, like meeting a project deadline.
Stressful situations cue a physical response. You might know it better as “fight-or-flight,” and that’s precisely what our body is preparing us to do: fight the danger or run from it. We release adrenaline that urges us to move, boosting our heart rate, tensing our muscles, and accelerating our breath. Sweat, shakiness, and temperature changes may be felt too!
And sure, this is highly beneficial when actual danger is present, and these adrenaline-fuelled energy rushes can be great short-term motivators, but we certainly aren’t meant to live in a state of chronic stress.
How Stress at Work (or Home) Impacts Us
Chronic stress is our body’s way of telling us that we live in constant fear. Think about that. Is that really an environment we can thrive in?
Of course not!
The stress response is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. Those rushes of mobilizing hormones aren’t healthy for us in the long run and can eventually lead to burnout: an overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. And it’s debilitating.
While burnout is devastating, we don’t have to reach that stage to be profoundly impacted by stress. The effects on our bodies, emotional lives, and mental health are equally serious.
Symptoms and effects of stress may include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Autoimmune disorders
- Panic attacks
- Dependence on unhealthy coping mechanisms
- Muscle tension and general soreness
- Exhaustion or sleep problems
- High blood pressure
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
The Cost of a Stressful Workplace
Without diminishing stress’s impact on individuals, we can also acknowledge how stress affects the workplace.
Stressful jobs alter the ways people engage with their work. You might notice this takes the shape of:
- Decreased productivity
- Lower work engagement
- Poorer job satisfaction
- Less work-life balance, which can lead to workaholism
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
And while it’s important to care about learning how to handle stress in the workplace purely for your employees’ sake, management teams will also feel the repercussions of stress. This may look like:
- Folks using more sick time, especially if they’re experiencing burnout
- Higher job turnover
- Financial loss due to lower productivity
- Poorer quality work
- Negative company culture
- More overtime work when you’re short-staffed or when people can’t accomplish their work in one day
A stressful work environment impacts every level of an organization, directly or indirectly. Whether it’s lower output from staff, the cost of onboarding new hires, or the company getting a bad reputation (look at Amazon), stress comes with a price tag.
Combatting Digital Stressors: Distraction Reduction as Stress Management
Chronic email pings, Slack notifications, the ability to have anything you want at the tips of your fingers (we’ve all been sucked in by the infinite scroll or Google wormhole until hours have passed and you have no idea how you got here) — this is what digital distraction looks like. And no matter how pure our intent, we know that social media is like potato chips: one bite is never enough. We always consume more than we intend to.
And maybe none of these things are actively causing work-related stress (unless you get stuck in a doomscroll), or perhaps they feel like a break from real-world stress, but the result is damning. Those time-wasting distractions cultivate more pressure.
Either you feel that always-on urge to reply to messages instantly, or you’re now stuck with less time to complete your day’s work — or both. Existing in the digital age means we’re constantly being pulled in a hundred directions. But what if we could do something about that?
Find Freedom in Limiting Workplace Stress
We don’t actually have to deal with that constant nag of notifications and our enticing Instagram feed. What if, instead of letting ourselves be infinitely accessible to the world around us, we could choose what was worthy of our attention?
The Freedom app helps those coping with stress by blocking time-wasting websites, social media, and other distracting apps. You can set your own limitations to find the balance that works for you while giving you the confidence boost you need to get the job done.
If you’re still stuck in the toxic loop of employee monitoring software, Freedom is your new solution. By providing a tool that empowers staff to address time management at the source, you can say goodbye to invasive, employee-tracking software that does more harm than good — and doesn’t actually work. Granting your team autonomy, not authority, is a meaningful part of learning how to relieve stress in the workplace.
But Freedom’s function extends beyond the 9 to 5! Use this tool to shut off from work by literally shutting it off. Block your email, staff communication apps, or anything else that inhibits your ability to disconnect and decompress from your job.
How to Deal With Stress
Stress is a universal experience, but it doesn’t have to be chronic. Before we get to some tips on how to handle stress, it’s crucial to note that sometimes, the biggest issue is your environment. It may be worth questioning where your biggest stressors stem from and if there’s anything you can do to change them.
But when it comes to general stress management, there are many ways to support yourself.
Find moments to slow down and breathe.
I know it feels like you have no time to accomplish everything you need to get done in a day, let alone make extra time to find some stillness. But I promise those few minutes of mindfulness pay off. Big time. When you notice you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed and out of control, pause, close your eyes (if you want), and pay attention to your breath. Return to that grounding exercise we previously did if you’d like. Then, when you’re ready, slowly let yourself return to the world.
Move your body.
Stress pumps your body with adrenaline which mobilizes your body to escape perceived threats. It’s why you get jittery and breathe faster in stressful situations. So use up that energizing chemical! Shake it out, dance it out, or go for a walk or run if possible. Better yet, exercise can also mitigate the harmful effects of stress on the body. Two birds, one stone.
Prioritize your time management.
So much stress stems from feeling like there isn’t enough time to complete your tasks. This often leads to procrastination, multitasking, or decision paralysis — none of which are productive coping mechanisms. Instead, try working on your time management skills. Make a to-do list in order of priority, schedule out blocks of time to work on specific projects, and lean on tools like Freedom that help keep you focused. Oh, and don’t forget to make time for breaks!
Seek professional help.
Mindfulness, meditation, and exercises may be helpful tools, but they can’t do it all. Stress can be consuming, and talking to a mental health professional can be life-changing. Self-help resources can never replace the individualized support that therapists, psychologists, and doctors can offer.
How Employers Can Combat Stress in the Workplace
Employers heavily influence workplace culture. If you’re noticing that folks are struggling with work-related stress management, you can and should start to make changes. Consider implementing some of the following ideas, and continue to check in with your team to help meet their specific needs.
Don’t forget that this is an ongoing journey. Continue hosting open dialogue and revisiting tools and resources that may create a happier, healthier environment.
Reduce overtime hours.
People need work-life balance. One of the simplest ways to do this is by limiting the number of overtime hours they work. And this might happen naturally! When you actively reduce the digital distraction employees face, staff productivity will likely boost, meaning they’ll require fewer hours to complete their daily work. But this only happens if you’re also supporting them in their roles. That means providing the needed resources, ensuring they’re only working within their job description, and respecting their limitations. Plus, surely you’re aware that fewer overtime hours means you’ll save money.
Provide ergonomic office furniture.
Our brains and bodies are intimately intertwined. So when your work environment isn’t equipped with ideal conditions for people’s physical needs, stress levels rise. Really, any unpleasant or potentially dangerous conditions can contribute to increased workplace tensions. All that sensory input drastically impacts employee wellness. So make the effects positive! Curating a safe and physically comfortable space is vital for understanding how to release stress caused by your material working environment.
Improve how often workers take breaks.
Change up your break structure! We know that humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish these days, so why are we still taking breaks the same way? It’s time to adapt. Consider the Pomodoro method: a 25-minute focused work sprint, then a five-minute break repeated four times, followed by a longer, 15-30 minute break. You may also take inspiration from deep work habits. According to Cal Newport, humans generally only have about four hours of deep work in them per day. So consider splitting that into two-hour sessions and planning shallow work and breaks accordingly.
Ensure workers have the resources they need to thrive.
How available are you to your staff? Have you checked in lately to see what they need to do better work? Meeting your team’s individual (and collective) needs is crucial to reducing pressure at work, so touch base with them. Maybe there’s a huge need for accessible, affordable childcare. Or maybe your current communication platforms aren’t cutting it for hybrid teams. Would paid mental health days or a 4-day work week be life-changing for your staff? Probably! But I can’t answer that — only they can.
One tool that we recommend (admittedly with strong bias) is Freedom for Teams. It’s a low stress way to give your company, your team, or your school Freedom Premium accounts at an amazingly affordable monthly price. Your team will have the autonomy and privacy to manage their own digital distraction as they need, and find more hours of satisfying, deep effective work.
Lead with compassion.
Encourage folks to come to you when they need support, feel overworked, or are struggling, and meet them with kindness and care. When staff concerns arise (and they will), work with them to create tangible accommodations that combat stress before it snowballs. Along with individual issues, consider how company culture, compensation, employee assistance, and expectations may create or relieve stress for folks. It’s then up to you to decide where to go from there.
Find Freedom in Stress Management
Stress reduction is a practice that all folks benefit from. By intentionally cultivating a healthy, supportive environment and continuing to learn how to manage your own work-related stress, you’ll curate a happier company culture. And with that comes job satisfaction, improved employee wellness, and a more productive team. When people have the tools to cope with stress, everyone wins.