How to Ensure Workplace Stress Doesn't Get the Best of You
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For most professionals, stress is a part of any day. Long hours and regular business travel often aren't always conducive to living a healthy lifestyle or finding time to relieve stress. In fact, 85 percent of medical problems may be stress related, according to the American Institute on Stress.
To manage stress, maintain health and succeed in the workplace, you may need to adjust your priorities.
Healthy Foods On-The-Go
When you need a quick bite and options are limited, sometimes convenience foods—often unhealthy foods—seem like the only option. But it's worth it to take a few extra minutes to treat yourself to a healthy meal or snack.
"When we skip meals or eat convenient junk food, we tend to overeat," says Meridan Zerner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, a Registered Dietitian at Cooper Clinic. "It ends up fueling a situation where we are over-caloried and undernourished. Our energy flags, we rely on caffeine and sugar to make up the deficit and then we crash."
Sure, sometimes you simply need to satisfy your growling stomach. But it's important to make sure that food serves a greater purpose than quieting the rumbling. "We want the good quality stuff that not only fuels, but lowers cholesterol, increases fiber and sustains energy for a long and productive work week," says Zerner.
Keep healthy, convenient snacks on hand. Zerner recommends almonds or other nuts, crackers and hummus, trail mix, peanut butter and whole-wheat bread, fruit or whole-grain cereal.
Stress and Cravings
The higher your stress soars, the more you crave a candy bar or salty french fries. That's because your body releases cortisol, a hormone that makes you crave high-fat, high-sugar foods.
In the short-term, the fat and sugar can make you feel better, but are obviously bad in the long run, explains Zerner. Instead of reaching for the candy bowl, satisfy your hunger with a healthy snack. Then seek non-food stress management techniques.
"When we take deep breaths, exercise, meditate or choose to do activities that lower our stress hormones, we can better manage our food choices and our waistlines," says Zerner.
Gaining weight around the waist is the most annoying and visible sign of stress. Exercising for a collective 30 minutes most days of the week can do wonders for your stress levels and ultimately your health.
A few simple ways to incorporate exercise and stress management into your daily routine include taking the stairs, holding a walking meeting, practicing exercises in your office, taking deep breaths, standing while on the phone or stretching often.
Thanks to technology, our work day might never end. Forty percent of our day is spent processing, handling, filing, storing, creating, reading and writing email. If we allow it, we are accessible anytime, anywhere. When it comes to email, try this boundary: Shut down your inbox and only check email every 20 minutes. You might find that you complete projects faster and are more productive.
When it comes to balancing work and family, it’s important to set boundaries. Make sure you are implementing plenty of family time and make special days really special. Make a list of what you enjoy doing in your free time. Whether it’s watching a movie, taking a vacation or playing sports, make sure they find time in your schedule.
An estimated 38 percent of workers experience fatigue, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Sleep is an important factor in helping to manage your stress, but at the same time stress can also affect your quality of sleep.
"Sleep is responsible for many of the appetite, and weight management hormones like ghrelin and leptin," explains Zerner. "Ghrelin stimulates appetite while leptin, produced in the fat cells, sends a signal to the brain when we are full." When you're stressed and sleep-deprived, this natural system is knocked off-balance.
"We know that to perform well in the workplace, sleep reigns supreme as it benefits alertness, memory, cognitive speed and reaction time," says Zerner.
So how little sleep can you get away with? Zerner explains that studies show somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night is optimal for your health.
Try these tips to sleep soundly and wake with less stress:
Wind down with a bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book or listening to music.
Make sure that your bed is comfortable and your room is dark, quiet and cool.
Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time each morning.
Don't eat a large meal too close to bedtime.
Get exercise during the day to help burn stress and tire your body.
For more information on Cooper Clinic and how to Get Cooperized, click here or call 972.560.2667.