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Eliminating your work stress

by Trace Dye

Is work stress consuming your life?

A certain amount of strain in the workplace is unavoidable, but when stress begins to permeate each facet of your day, the effects can take a toll on your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

The standard 40-hour workweek has become nearly archaic in the 21st century, with many Americans working far beyond that. According to a Gallup survey from 2014, 21% of Americans are working 50 to 59 hours per week, while 18 percent put in a whopping 60 hours or more and 11 percent are working 41 to 49 hours per week.

Sleep deprivation and excessive time away from family and friends are only a few of the consequences that can result from this level of output. In severe circumstances, the strain of work stress can actually shave years off your life. According to an in-depth study released by Harvard Business School and Standford University’s Graduate School of Business, work stress has potentially led to health problems that are killing more Americans each year than diabetes, Alzheimer’s and the flu. The aforementioned issues could also be contributing to a staggering $190 billion in health care costs.

Clearly, the effects of stress extend to both the mind and body. Along with addressing issues that are being exacerbated within the office, it is integral that American workers take measures outside the confines of their work schedule in order to regain balance in their wellness.

Relax and relieve stress

Arielle Feinberg is general manager of Columbia’s Association’s (CA) Haven on the Lake, a mind body retreat with a selection of services that are designed to cultivate wellness and relief from the stresses of everyday life.

“We just don’t do enough for ourselves,” she said. “I think we’re constantly doing for everyone else. And at some point in the day you’re like, ‘Well what did you do for you?’ I think you need to reward yourself and I don’t think we do enough of that.”

A certain amount of strain at work is unavoidable. But when stress reaches extremes, it can lead to a malignant combination of anxiety, depression and fatigue. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take toward a road that leads to a happier and healthier you.

1. Set Boundaries

 It is not uncommon for employees to experience a fear of saying no: saying no to staying after hours; saying no to taking work home with you; saying no to taking on an extra project when your task list is already filled to the brim.

Learning to identify your own personal limits and saying no can seem like a feat, but putting these things into practice can have monumental effects on your wellbeing. Have you been working weekends and long hours due to requests from your supervisor? Or have you chosen to take on additional tasks out of a fear of disappointing your colleagues? Learn to say no to yourself and those you work with in order to protect your health.

For example, if a supervisor asks for additional tasks that would lead to fatigue and burnout, explain specifically why this is not in your —or the company’s — best interest. The offer of compromise can also work well in your favor. Working with a supervisor to delegate tasks or to arrange your schedule in a way that is more conducive to your health and productivity can alleviate work stress. Consistent communication can also lead to a more pleasing environment and rapport among colleagues.

Another way to set boundaries for yourself is by learning to disconnect — literally. Smartphones, email and other technologies can blur the lines between clocking in and clocking out. Eliminating distractions and finding a personal sanctuary for reflection and repose is an excellent way to set boundaries and recharge.

“Even if it’s just for 20 minutes, it’s important that you have a place that’s quiet and relaxing,” Feinberg said. “We’re always connected. Haven is a great place to disconnect and I think that’s important, because we are all about being the fastest, the quickest, but yet we want everything done superbly.

When quantity takes value over quality, and self-care falls to the wayside, burnout is a likely consequence.

“If we just slowed down and did it right the first time, we wouldn’t have to go back. [Haven] allows you to slow down a little bit and reflect. Reflection is always nice, because you can think and plan for the future.”

2. Get Adequate Sleep

When you aren’t getting a sufficient amount of sleep, it won’t matter what side of the bed you wake up on — every side becomes the wrong side when sleep deprivation rears its ugly head. According to Mayo Clinic, the average adult should be sleeping seven to eight hours per night. The racing thoughts and anxiety that can accompany work stress can lead to insomnia and other sleep difficulties. Negative mood, lack of focus and even increased risk of disease can be caused by an unhealthy sleep schedule. Moreover, sleep is integral to recovery and healing from the various elements and experiences we encounter throughout the day.

The National Sleep Foundation compiled a list of tips to improve sleep hygiene, which include:

  • Going to bed at the same time each night in order to establish a routine.
  • Abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and large meals before bed.
  • Creating a comfortable environment in your bedroom that lacks distraction and is at a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees.
  • Find a relaxing activity to do in order to help you wind down, such as reading a book or meditation.

3. Practice Good Nutrition

A healthy diet offers both physical and psychological benefits. Physically, good nutrition will increase energy and prevent illness. Psychologically, eating a diet that is balanced and tailored toward your specific needs can significantly reduce the risk of anxiety and depression — two things that can be spurred or exacerbated by stress.

Erin Nelson, a Certified Health Coach and Integrative Nutrition Counselor at Haven, works with a variety of clients to navigate individualized nutrition plans. Among her expertise is the relationship between food and mood.

“People who tend to be more depressed tend to be people who need more amino acids from protein,” Nelson said. “Often, they need to either consume more protein or ensure that they’re breaking their food down properly and fully digesting it.”

By choosing healthful foods and practicing slow, mindful eating, stress can be reduced significantly.

4. Exercise

 It is widely known that exercise is beneficial to your health and a potent stress reliever. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) a minimum of 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise five days a week can significantly improve cardiovascular health. The heart can often suffer when stress becomes extreme, which is why regular physical activity is crucial.

Mind body exercises like Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are infused with meditative components to combat stress and evoke a healing connection between the mind, body and spirit.

5. Practice Positive Self-Talk

The old cliché about being your own worst critic can often hit too close to home. When career demands and stress reach a fervor, it can be easy to turn the emotional your upset inward and blame yourself when things go awry. Rather than continuing an ongoing internal dialogue that is marked by disapproval, try giving your thoughts the voice of a compassionate friend. Recognize your strengths, the challenges you have overcome, the gifts you provide to others you care for and applaud yourself. Be kind toward yourself when you feel you may be in over your head or make a mistake; treat mistakes as opportunities for learning.

No one is perfect. Find solidarity in the fact that you are far from the only person experiencing the negative emotions that accompany stress. By utilizing supports and implementing healthful, holistic strategies, you can reroute your everyday in order to achieve optimal wellness in and out of the workplace.

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