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    How can you reduce the stress of completing a project?


    We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your desk, trying to focus on the task at hand, but you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the ever-growing pile of work waiting for you. Your stress levels are through the roof, and you can’t shake the feeling that you’re constantly behind schedule. Sound familiar? Know that you are not alone in fact:

    • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives. (Org)
    • About one million Americans miss work each day because of project stress. (Stress.org)
    • 76% of US workers report that workplace stress affects their relationships. (Stress.org)

    This blog discusses actionable methods of reducing personal stress and how to identify stressors in the workplace.

    Work-Related Stress & Cortisol

    When the body faces stressful circumstances, it responds by increasing the production of the hormone “cortisol” as part of our fight or flight response.  Cortisol helps sharpen our focus and provides us with a short-term infusion of energy that allows us to work through difficult situations. However, too much cortisol over long periods of time can cause mental health problems.

    • Cortisol is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”

    High levels of sustained stress on the mind and body can lead to the overproduction of cortisol, leading to anxiety, stress, body pain, and a weakened immune system. Therefore employers and employees must regulate stress levels to avoid the mental and physical health consequences.

    There are two types of stress that impact our health:


    1) Physiological (or physical) stressors

    These are stressors that put strain on our bodies. For example, very cold/hot temperatures, excessive body strain, or muscle pain.

    2) Psychological Stressors

    These are events, situations, individuals, comments, or anything we interpret as negative or threatening. For instance, not being able to find a babysitter for your sick child when you cannot take time off work, deadlines, etc.

    Causes of work-related stress

    There are many things in the work environment that cause stress, aka stressors. Stressors are anything that cause stress and the release of stress hormones. Here is a list of the most common work-related/workplace stressors. While it may not be realistic to eliminate all of them, it is important to identify them. Once we know what they are, managers and employees can work toward managing and mitigating the more harmful stressors.

    Common stressors that cause work-related stress include:

    • Long hours
    • Heavy workload (feeling overwhelmed)
    • Changes within the organization (new project manager)
    • Unrealistic deadlines (other project constraints)
    • Changes to duties
    • Job insecurity
    • Lack of autonomy
    • Boring tasks/work
    • Insufficient skills for the job
    • Over-supervision (Project managers)
    • Inadequate working environment
    • Lack of proper resources
    • Lack of equipment
    • Few promotional opportunities
    • Harassment
    • Discrimination
    • Poor relationships with colleagues or bosses
    • Crisis incidents, such as an armed hold-up or workplace death.
    • Project management stress (Project related issues)
    • Poor project plan (Project life cycle)
    • Gossip
    • Politics

    Employers should work with employees to design a workplace that eliminates unnecessary stressors and makes reducing stress generally, a priority.

    Step Back and Take Planned Breaks

    Work-related stress can take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. So it is essential to set aside 10-15 minute planned breaks. Taking breaks gives your mind and body time to detach, restore, and refresh, allowing you to re-energize and remain effective and positive at work. TimeWellScheduled’s scheduling software ensures that employees take all scheduled breaks!

    Here are a few break time self-care activities that will improve mental and physical health:

      1. Go outside and take a walk (get fresh air)
      2. Stand up, leave the work area and stretch
      3. Avoid looking at screens and devices during your break
      4. Practice breathing exercises
      5. keep a journal and write about why you feel stressed
      6. Eat a healthy snack and avoid caffeine if possible
      7. Clean up the work area
      8. Delegate tasks amongst team/project members

    Taking mini-breaks throughout the workday can reduce or prevent stress, help individuals stay positive, and lessen the chances of burnout. But, the critical thing to remember is that breaks will help employees maintain a high level of performance throughout the day. Plus, breaks lessen the need for a longer recovery after work.

    Note: It is important to get at least eight hours of sleep during the work week.

    Exercise: Go for a walk or Stand up and Stretch

    Physical activity improves your body’s consumption of oxygen and blood circulation. These are both critical functions that influence our mood and thought processes. Further, exercise stimulates the production of endorphins which affect how we feel.

    For example, physical activities are responsible for releasing serotonin and dopamine into the bloodstream. Serotonin is associated with feelings of well-being, focus, and calm, while dopamine is related to feelings of reward, motivation, and productivity (APA, 2020). Physical activity can also help take your mind off work-related stress.

    Listen to music: Use Music to Help Improve the Mood

    There are a multitude of studies that confirm how, what, when, and why music reduces stress. In the simplest terms, music influences mood, making it a valuable tool for managing stress at work. For instance, If we are tired, music can help reinvigorate us; if we are anxious, music can calm us down; if we are sad, music can make us feel happier, etc. (Indeed, 2021)

    A 2020 Overview study into music and stress suggests that listening to music can:

    • lowers our heart rate
    • reduce cortisol levels
    • encourages the release of endorphins (promotes feelings of wellbeing)
    • provides a cognitive distract
    • help prevent burnout. (less stress on the body)

    If you decide to use music as a form of stress relief during work, be sure to inform your manager. Also, do not listen to music if it puts yourself or others in danger.

    Chaos Causes Stress: Keep your workspace tidy.

    Studies have shown a correlation between a tidy workspace and increased work efficiency. This means a clean desk can reduce stress at work. Also note that, TimeWellscheduled can help keep your workspace clean and organized by reducing the need for scheduling forms, files and paper documents.

    • 57% of Americans admit to judging their coworkers by how clean they keep their workspaces (CloudEmployee, 2021).

    In addition, a disorganized workspace can:

    • provoke emotional and mental distress
    • encourage feelings of loss of control
    • increase frustration in the workplace
    • waste time and reduce work efficiency
    • reduce accidents or needless injuries
    • reduce confidence and self-perceptions
    • reduce productivity

    In sum, a clean work area increases employee morale and promotes a work environment that values safety, cleanliness, mental health, and individual wellbeing. (Delegating tasks and team collaboration will make cleaning less time-consuming.)

    Need a Release: keep a stress ball nearby.

    Studies show that squeezing a stress ball stimulates muscles and nerves, which acts as a mental and physical distraction providing immediate relief from stress—using a stress ball is a convenient and natural way to fight work-related stress. Over the long-term, consistent use of a stress ball improves nervous system health and reduces cortisol levels and overall stress levels.

    Additionally, there are other significant benefits to squeezing a stress ball. They include:

    • Enhanced emotional stability
    • Reduced anxiety and stress
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Improved concentration and creativity
    • Strengthen muscles
    • Increased positive energy

    If you do not have a stress ball, a tennis ball, racket-ball or similar sized sphere can be used as a substitute. The ball should be soft, but offer some resistance when squeezed.

    Medical professionals recommend the following three methods for squeezing a stress ball:

      1. Place the ball on a flat surface and roll it by curling your fingers towards your palm, hold it for a count of 5-10, and then release your fingers.
      2. Put the ball between your hands while keeping your arms vertical. Then press for 5 seconds and relax.
      3. Hold and squeeze a ball as hard as you can for up to 5 seconds, then relax.

    Get Some Fresh Air: Practice Breathing Exercise

    Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress by increasing oxygen exchange, lowering your blood pressure, slowing the heart, and releasing any tension in the stomach area. In addition, concentrating on your breath can bring you into the present moment in a state of mindfulness. Other benefits of breathing exercises:

    • Breathing exercises are easy to learn.
    • They can be done anywhere and at anytime
    • They don’t require any special tools or equipment
    • Individuals can choose the breathing exercises that work best for you

    Here is a simple but Simple Breathing Exercise:

      1. Sit with your back straight in a chair. Place your arms on the armrests and your legs at a 45-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor.
      2. Close your eyes and allow all of your muscles to relax
      3. ​Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
      4. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly but keep your jaw relaxed.
      5. Repeat this breathing exercise. Do it for 5-7 minutes until you start to feel better.

    Note: Concentrate on each breath as the oxygen flows in and out of your body

    Workplace stress can lead to mental health issues. It’s not only employees who are affected; the economy takes a hit when people can no longer work productively because of untreated stress. Private companies, business owners, and governments have a responsibility and an opportunity to address this problem.

    By creating healthy working environments with reasonable demands, business leaders can help their employees live healthier, more productive, and enjoyable lives. And by providing access to mental health services, everyone can play their part in reducing the adverse effects of workplace stress on our society as a whole.

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