Stress is your body's way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. That demand or threat once upon a time was things like lions, tigers, or bears. Now, our stresses are slightly more tame: a looming deadline, a botched sales call, or a tricky office relationship.
When you sense danger - whether real or imagined - the body kicks its defense mechanism into gear with the fight or flight response in an effort to save your life. Your body either wants to flee from the dangerous beast that's trying to eat you (or your lunch that's in the office fridge), or stand its ground and fight.
Stress: Good vs. Bad
Stress isn't always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. The problem with the stresses in today's society is that they're complicated. They're emotional in nature, so there are various shades of gray, and fighting your boss to the death over the fact that she won't give you the raise you deserve is really not in your best interest. Neither is running away from the office. The stresses we deal with on a daily basis don't seem to ever go away.
In these situations you have to stand your ground, act like nothing's wrong, and go about your life, continuing to get your job done. Your brain knows there's no real threat to your life, but your body's instincts have keyed up for a battle, releasing the stress hormone, cortisol, which can wreak havoc on the rest of your body, inducing inflammation and all sorts of other problems. Cortisol is responsible for initiating the breakdown of collagen, contributing to wrinkles and fine lines.
It doesn't matter how much you love your job. There's going to be stress. Some short term, some longer. Some motivational, some detrimental.
How to Get Rid of Stress
Your best bet for survival (besides fighting or running away) is to take some time out in the middle of your day and de-stress.
Karl Staib, author of Work Happy Now and motivational speaker believes that "There are so many ways we can pull ourselves out of a stressful state if we just take a moment to be creative. We have to find creative solutions to our ever-evolving stress." He recommends taking a "Weird Break" to get your brain focus flowing again. "During my break I do something a little weird like take a short walk and hang from a tree branch." He says, "I find that it's tough to worry while hanging from a beautiful tree. Plus, my creativity almost always starts flowing again."
Stress Relievers Everyone Should Do
- Call a friend you haven't talked to in over a year. Reconnecting with an old friend can really help you relax and feel good, plus it helps you to see life from a new perspective - or at least one you haven't viewed in a while.
- Do a side stretch. Elongating the spine can help you to clear your mind. Keeping your tush in the chair and your feet on the floor, reach your arms up over your head and clasp your fingers together. Reach up and bend to your side while squeezing your shoulder blades down your back, and your biceps tight to your ears. Keep your abs tight, and breathe.
- Leave for lunch. At least step away from your desk and head to the cafeteria or break room. Learn to unplug for that time period instead of giving in to the temptation to check your email. Take a little time for yourself and read a book or socialize with your colleagues. Just a small change in scenery can help to boost your energy levels and allow you to de-stress.
- Breathe deeply. Breathing exercises can help you relax, because they make your body feel like it does when you already are relaxed. While shallow breathing - a marker of stress - stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response), deep breathing has been shown to reduce tension and stress because of the extra oxygen boost. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us relax.
- Do some office yoga. Every yogi knows the benefits of yoga are boundless, and there are even sequences that you can do right at your desk. Puneet Nanda, author of Wall Street Yoga, details his 14-minute yoga sequence designed to be done mid-day to boost endorphins and dopamine. It's particularly geared for those strong-willed, high-stress Type-A's. Sitting for long periods of time can cause your hips to tighten and become sore. Stand up as often as you can to counter this. Be sure to take a few moments each day to do the standing pigeon stretch at your desk for a feel-good pull. In yoga, the pigeon pose is extremely beneficial for reducing stress since tension due to emotional stress is carried in the hips.
- Smell good smells. Aromatherapy can really do wonders for the psyche. Even if you don't fully believe in the art, you know darn-well how a good smelling candle can lighten your mood, or how the smell of oatmeal cookies baking makes you feel warm and gooey. If your office won't allow candles or a diffuser, turn to oils directly to lift your spirits. You can sniff deeply from the bottle, or use a roller to apply the scents to your pulse points. Some scents are known to aid in focus, concentration, and mental clarity, while others are good for relaxation.
While you can't always avoid the stressors in your life, you can take steps to help to alleviate some of it and counteract the negative impact it has on you and your body. All of that stress inflammation can build up over time, affecting even your skin in ways that show up as acne, redness, and other problems. Taking even just a few minutes each day to relax your mind and body can have a huge impact on your physical being, overall anxiety, mental state, and overall work-life balance.