Raise your hand if the following are true: Your boss recites Dilbert. The staff consists of the Pink Floyd Animals trifecta: dogs, pigs, and sheep. You hear blood churning through your ears, taste adrenaline in your saliva, feel sweat spreading out from your armpits as your stress levels rise, rise, rise…and then sit there and boil. No release. No escape.
Okay, hands down. Work stress rips us apart. It sabotages us. Inspires stupid comments snapped at people just as stupid. Makes us a Monday-through-Friday phosphorous burn.
Enough already. Tomorrow, and every day thereafter, remember these tips for controlling the weight on your shoulders. Because if you think your job isn’t your life, you’re dead wrong.
Dump the Coffee
We know, coffee is in your blood—and that’s the problem. Caffeine is liquid stress, simultaneously boosting adrenaline production and suppressing adenosine, a natural relaxant in your brain. “Eliminating caffeine is more effective than any other stress-reduction strategy I know, ” says David B. Posen, M.D., a stress expert and author of Always Change a Losing Game. In fact, Dr. Posen claims that 75 percent of his decaffeinated patients feel significantly more relaxed and, ironically, more energetic—mostly from better sleep.
To avoid withdrawal headaches, Dr. Posen suggests gradually cutting back by one cup at a time, beginning with your last cup of the day.
Say the “O ” Word
Ask David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, what’s the biggest office stress buster, and his answer is immediate: organization. “It’s what’s most needed and most lacking. ” Even a very basic organizational habit can cumulatively save you hours in a work week. And, of course, more time means less stress. Allen’s most valuable habit? “My end-of-week review. I go over my inbox and my work lists. By far, it’s my best-spent time. ” Thanks to that one wise Friday hour, he’s never frazzled or overwhelmed when the whistle blows on Monday morning.
Spy on Yourself
Hunched over a keyboard with knots in your shoulders? Yeah, and you probably didn’t realize it until you stopped to think about it. But who has time to stop when everybody around you is shouting, “Go, go, go! ” like the Laker Girls from hell? West Virginia University researchers found that people’s stress levels dropped by 54 percent after a 2-month “mindfulness training ” program—that is, simply paying more attention to the symptoms of stress, such as bunched-up muscles and fast, scattered thinking.
The good news: You don’t need a 2-month course. “Even minor adjustments can produce big benefits, ” says Kimberly Williams, Ph.D., author of the study. This means paying attention if your thoughts begin to race or your breathing becomes shallow. And when you notice knots in your shoulders, you can . . .
Do the PC Stretch
With all due deference to Bill Gates, this is for everyone shackled to a friggin’ computer. “When we’re under stress, we usually lean forward to focus on what we’re doing, ” says Neil Chasan, a physical therapist in Seattle. “This makes the muscles of the neck and lower back work harder—and they’re small to begin with. ”
For quick relief, do what Chasan does when he’s deskbound: Clasp your hands behind your neck and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Now let your head fall forward so your chin is close to your chest, and bring your elbows together in front of you so they’re touching. Pull down with your hands for several seconds, then release. Repeat six to eight times whenever you’re knotted up.
Buy a New Multivitamin
Tomorrow, revise your morning routine to include your antistress pill. In a University of Birmingham study of men 18 to 42 years old, British researchers found that those who took a daily multivitamin high in vitamin C and all the B vitamins enjoyed a 21 percent drop in anxiety, while those popping a placebo actually felt more stressed. (Perhaps from feeling deceived.) Even better, the multi men also rated themselves less tired and more focused. The probable cause: Research has shown that B and C vitamins help reduce the effects of stress. If you want to try the multivitamin used in the study—Berocca—go to drugstore.com. Ninety pills will run you $40.
Throw Up Your Hands
And start juggling. “Juggling gets me out of my chair, ” says Dr. Posen, admitting that his limited skills are actually helpful. “It’s hard to juggle without laughing at yourself. ” Plus, it’s nearly impossible to think about work when you’re concentrating on juggling. And that’s the point: Regularly schedule 5 minutes of laughing distraction. Pick up Juggling for the Complete Klutz, beanbags included (about $10 on Amazon).