Before we get to my list of ways to decrease stress, I want to debunk some myths.

First of all, stress at the workplace does not always cause unhappiness. Your workplace happiness hinges more on whether or not you like your work than on whether or not your work is stressful, according to Alan Krueger, professor at Princeton University.

That said, declaring that you thrive under stress is a delusional justification for procrastination. Sure, there are people who can’t figure out how to deliver on anything until the last minute. But this is a crisis in confidence (fear of starting for fear of failing) as opposed to stunning brilliance unlocked by stress.

And let’s get something straight about bringing pets to work. Employees love a dog at the office, but there is not evidence that dogs at work decrease stress. There is only evidence that they make people work longer hours at the office. So maybe life would get less stressful for dog lovers if you leave the pets at home, work fewer hours and get a social life.

Here’s why decreasing stress matters to me: People who are less stressed exude more confidence than people who are more stressed. I do everything in my life better when I am feeling more self-confident, and I bet you do, too. So, in an effort to buoy self-confidence, here’s a list of things that will decrease stress at work:

1. Do yoga. In the bathroom.
Of course, doing yoga anywhere is a good idea. But during the workday, tension builds up every hour, and you can’t do real yoga in your cube without calling attention to yourself for being eccentric. So go in the bathroom and do some downward dogs. A few in the middle of the day can relax your body clear your mind and keep productivity and creativity at higher levels. (Hands on the bathroom floor? I’ve been doing it for years and haven’t gotten any diseases. That’s what the soap is for.)

2. Make a friend.
If you have a friend you can depend on at work, you will have less stress and more happiness on the job. If you have trouble making friends, researchers say you should put a plant and some candy on your desk.

Please, I do not want to see one single person commenting on how “young people today text message so much and don’t know how to have relationships.” It’s the baby boomers who have spawned a whole industry about how to make friends, how to control your ego, how to make conversation. Generation Y is already great at doing stuff like that .

3. Fill your downtime carefully.
Running errands during lunch increases stress because you worry about getting back to work in time, according to Dorothy James, professor at Texas A&M University. And if you work at home, beware: People who spend their unscheduled time slots doing housework have greater number of health problems than those who pass the time socializing or exercising, according to the Journal of Occupational Health (in an article I can’t find, but was cited in Self magazine.)

4. Fix your ergonomics.
If your body is a pretzel at a computer your mind starts pretzeling as well, to cope with the physical pain. So, wouldn’t you know it, Google has its own, in-house ergonomics expert to make sure people take care of this stress. If you don’t have a personal ergonomics guru, an easy thing to do is to make sure you use a mouse instead of a touchpad whenever you can. A more difficult thing is to learn to use one of these keyboards that manage to look like they will break your wrists while promising to preserve them.

5. Monitor yourself.
Like everything you might want to change about your life, the more closely you monitor it, the more you’re likely to make the change. So you can gauge how stressed you are by taking this test.

To be honest, though, I didn’t take it myself. Most of the problem behaviors — like “do you set unrealistic deadlines for yourself?” and “do you find yourself overeating?” — were actually integral to my getting this post written.

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10 replies
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Interesting post. Perhaps you could write about the difference between “stress” and “pressure” as many people probably use the two words interchangably. For example, perhaps people who say they thrive under “stress” are really saying they work best under pressure. From your comments, it sounds like you’re that way. I know I am, and I think many successful people are as well.

    When the money is on the line or when the client is in the room or when a large audience awaits every word many people can suddenly pull off a much better performance than in their day-to-day, less pressure filled existence. In another example, many pro athletes are famous for finding an extra gear during the playoffs — which is performing under pressure when it really counts.

    Performing well under pressure is probably tough to do if you’re stressed.

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Thanks for making that distinction, Wendy. I think rising to the occasion because the situation is very important (pressure) is much more high-functioning that getting things done because you backed yourself to a wall where there’s no more procrastinating (stress). The latter situation makes a person’s life out of control in terms of time management, even if performance is solid.

  3. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    Good points about working from home. I find my stress level much more manageable when I go to the office… If I try and catch up on things at home, I never get a break.

    I like things “lively” but NEVER stressful.


  4. Dave
    Dave says:

    I think stress is pressure controlled by other people. Example: person A “thrives on pressure” and loves it. Her overcommittment leads her to make incessant requests for work from persons B, C, D, ETC. Persons B-ETC are stressed.

  5. Diana
    Diana says:

    Thanks for the links to the google blog on ergonmics. I also loved the link to the funky-looking keyboards. In my job, I use the keyboard (especially the number pad!) alot because one of our main operations programs is DOS-based (groooaaan). I try to interupt keyboarding-based activites as often as possible with other activities to give my wrist a break, but I still worry about RSIs.

    I think another important thing to note is how profoundly workplace stress can infiltrate our personal lives outside of the actual workplace. Really stressful jobs stay with you all day… you’re thinking about projects, reports, to-do lists, etc. all day, all evening, and it can often cause insomnia. A much healthier worker is one who can stop working when work is over for the day, and leave the office at the office. This is very hard to do for alot of people, but like you’ve said before, it is so crucial to have an active and interesting life outside of your job.


    And as an almost *completely* unrelated sidenote, a thought struck me over the weekend about a prior post you made about the science of Happiness. I think a lot of sports fanatics (like lawyers!) are less happy because of the lack of control over they have over that area of their life. Team wins, they are exuberant; team loses, they are depressed and/or belligerant (mind you, I’m talking real *fanatics*). The subject came up while talking to my friend while watching a college football game. I love the Longhorns… it’s great when they win and it sucks when they lose, but I don’t let myself get really worked up over the team’s wins or losses because I know that I have absolutely zero control over the tiny little people on the screen. It would stress me out way too much to put my future joy or sadness in the hands of something (or someone) over which I have no control. I think real athletes (actively pursuing their success/happiness) are probably much happier than the people who watch them on TV. Extrapolate. :)

  6. Bill Hanover
    Bill Hanover says:

    Great comments,

    Here’s something to consider related to workplace stress or home-life stress etc. When being stressed turns to anger (whether from a football game loss, or other) then we have a different issue.

    Back during my psych training (years ago) my Psychologist mentor taught that anger is always a manifestation of fear and or hurt. I challenged him on that, but for more than 12 years I have been looking and haven’t found an exception yet.

    When workplace (or anyplace,) stress can bring on feelings of inadequacy and frustration it might be wise to examine if you are afraid or hurt in some way. I’ll bet you’ll find this connection most of the time.

    .02 worth tonight ; – )

    All the Best

  7. Sean Teebs
    Sean Teebs says:

    Nothing about being forced to work 60 hrs/wk is ever going allow “stunning brilliance unlocked by stress”. The workforce is driven by profits and every worker is overhead, a drain on the fat wallets of the power elite.

  8. pat
    pat says:

    I do things I enjoy at home [ the things about making more money and imporving my life] all day all night without stress but at work I spend only 1 or 2 hours I feel bored. That’s because I don’ love what I do at work. I work for money and the bad part is high responsibilities but low pay, I think most people feel the same way that I do.

    I don’t care much about ” run away from the problem or stay to fight ” because if I can fix those stupid problems and get work done on time, I don’t see any better things will come to my life because my company is that way [ I experienced it not just predict] so why do I have to work at that company.

    People who sit on the same situation like mine have to find channels to release stress. All of those things take me to another world. The world I enjoy and I wish someday I could make a lot of money from those too.

    Keep looking what you love and turn it to something you can make money from.

    Good sites, keep on writing. I love sites that show the way to release stress with a good style not a boring style and doesn’t seem to get to the point.

  9. M P
    M P says:

    Your suggestion about yoga got me thinking about a couple other things I’ve done that might work:

    – Give yourself a nice face wash with toilet water. I’ve always noticed the faucets in my bathroom at work are always a little warm, but the toilet water is always the perfect temperature to perk you up.

    – Pilates in the pantry. Avoid lunch hours, but it’s the perfect hideaway for a mid day workout.

    – 2 words. Silk. Boxers.

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