Reducing Workplace Stress Creating a Stress-Free Work Zone

By David Whitehouse, M.D.

According to a study by the Center for the New American Dream, more than 50% of Americans would be willing to take a day off work without pay in an effort to feel less stressed and have more time with their families.1

In today’s fast-paced world, people are working longer hours and taking less time for themselves. Stress has become a strong presence in our lives and is taking a toll on both our physical and emotional health.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 80-90% of all illnesses are caused by stress either directly or indirectly.2 More people are becoming aware of the strong connection between mind and body, and the effects that one can have on the other.3 Since people spend most of their time working, it is natural for the majority of stressful situations to arise at work. Issues such as time management, deadlines, and difficult co-workers can create high-stress situations. It is important to be able to identify these situations and begin taking preventative steps to avoid them. Here are ten tips for relieving workplace stress:

1. Eat Right. During work hours, we have a tendency to neglect our body’s needs by eating unhealthy snacks. Eating healthy food can increase your energy.

2. Drink Less Caffeine. Drinking lots of coffee and sodas can increase your stress levels. If you can’t cut out caffeine beverages completely, try to alternate your caffeine intake with healthier beverages or snacks.

3. Exercise. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, so try to take a brisk 10-minute walk during the day, even if it means a walk around the office or building. Walking will help to get your blood moving and give you a mental break from your tasks.

4. Eliminate Noise. Background noise can be distracting and unsettling. If you are finding it difficult to concentrate due to excessive noise, invest in earplugs or even a walkman with headphones — the headphones will block out the noise while soothing music calms you.

5. Stretch. Stretching will help to relieve stiff muscles, which can hold tension and make you feel more stressed.

6. Simplify the Morning. Getting up 15 minutes earlier and packing lunches or laying out clothes the night before can help create a routine and get you organized.

7. Think Positive. Take a few minutes to reflect on the good things in life. Taking stock of what you have can instantly improve your mood and outlook.

8. Breathe. When we are stressed, we have a tendency to take shallow breaths, which can result in feeling more tense. Start by inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of eight, then exhaling slowly for a count of 16. Concentrate on your counting and breath.

9. Rest. Be sure you are getting enough sleep at night. Not feeling rested can add to your stress level and make you feel more overwhelmed. If you have been experiencing recurring sleepless nights, consult your physician for guidance.

10. Enjoy life. Try to do something you love every day to give yourself something to look forward too.

Most stress arises due to feelings of life being out of control. By taking time to get yourself organized, and taking care of yourself, you can begin to gain control and ensure that your work day is as relaxed as possible.

Sometimes life can feel overwhelming. If you find that you are having trouble doing daily tasks or that problems are affecting your relationships with friends and family, you should consider seeking professional counseling. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness or failure, especially in situations too difficult to handle alone.

E-mail Stress-out

Today, e-mail is one of the most common forms of communication, but can also be one of the most stressful. Opening a full e-mail box can be frustrating and overwhelming, not to mention time consuming. Maintaining a full e-mail box can lead to missed assignments, deadlines and increased stress, but there is a better way. Managing your e-mail inbox begins by changing your e-mail habits.

Follow these steps to an empty in-box:

• Learn the Software – spending time learning your e-mail software and all it has to offer can help you get organized and save you time in the long run. Most e-mail programs allow you to create folders and subfolders in which to store and archive messages.

• Get Organized – once you know how to use your e-mail software, you can organize your inbox and file away all those important messages to make them easier to access. Also, don’t forget to trash any spam or useless e-mails.

• Change Your View – your inbox should not be used as a to-do list, it is for short-term storage only. Change your habits so instead of leaving a message in your inbox until it’s completed, try placing the task from the e-mail on your task list along with the contact information, then filing the e-mail away until you are prepared to reply.


National Mental Health Association

Phone: 1-800-969-6642

Find tips for reducing everyday stress, plus helpful articles on mental health topics and local support groups.

The information and therapeutic approaches in this article are provided for educational purposes only. They are not meant to be used in place of professional clinical consultations for individual health needs. Certain treatments may not be covered in some benefit plans. Check your health plan regarding your coverage of services.

1 The New American Dream, Americans Eager to Take Back Their Time, Retrieved October 14, 2005, Web site:

2 Epply, K.R., Abram, A.I., and Shear, J. (1989). Differential effects of relaxation techniques in trait anxiety: a meta analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 45, 957-974.

3 American Psychological Association, Facts & Statistics, Retrieved October 14, 2005, from APA HelpCenter, Web site:

Dr. David Whitehouse is the Chief Medical Officer, Strategy and Innovation, for United Behavioral Health. United Behavioral Health, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, provides behavioral health services to more than 43 million members across the country. Since 1979, United Behavioral Health has earned a reputation as an innovative developer of clinical solutions that improve total health and well-being. More information about United Behavioral Health can be found



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