14 Ways to Cope with Workplace Stress for Chicagoans

With the seasons changing and summer coming to a close as well cold weather nearing there can be an increase in overall stress. Couple that with Chicago’s erratic weather and sometimes harsh winters it’s important to take a look at workplace stress. We spend more time at work than anywhere else and if it is a source of great stress it can overwhelm the rest of our lives.

Work stress can create conflict with many matters from interpersonal issues to productivity. Similar to stress at home, workplace stress effects can be physical, psychological as well as effect reactions and behaviors.

Workplace stress can create issues with concentration, sleep, mood, energy, isolation, and motivation. Protracted or recurrent workplace stress can increase the risk of psychological distress resulting in anxiety, depression, or PTSD in some cases as well as exacerbate existing psychological issues.

Key Coping Strategies

  1. Create awareness to how your body reacts to stress. Knowing how your body reacts is important not only in assisting identifying stressors but also a cue on when stress levels may need to be reduced. Exercises in mindfulness and meditation are useful in identifying stress reactions. When feeling stressed, find a quiet place, close your eyes and scan your body, try to notice how your stress manifest itself. Does your heart rate increase? Are you easily distracted? Does your chest feel heavy? Etc. Take a look at meditation tips for some local options.
  1. Identify stress triggers. By identifying causes you can learn when to act on a stressor to better regulate your stress levels. Maybe driving on the Edens or calling your mother are triggers – being aware of these can help you recognize them and self-soothe. Another example of this would be you notice your chest feeling heavy and you know that is a reaction your body has to stress. Take a few moments to stop and reflect and what may have transpired to cause this feeling (What specifically happened? What did I see? Who was involved? Where was I? etc.). Taking a few moments to find the trigger of your stress can help you, later on, strategizing how to address it.
  2. Focus on developing prioritization skills. Look and all your task and separate making those with the nearest deadline and the greatest return/benefit to your role as a top It’s important to create a list to better manage your time as well minimize any feelings of being overwhelmed. Try to schedule your time on a calendar in advance. “21 Great Time Management Survival Tips!” provides some useful strategies.
  3. Try to incorporate exercise into your routine. Staying active is an essential part of reducing stress. There are many ways you can try to stay active even with a busy schedule. Incorporate walking or bike riding into your morning commute, just a small change can really make a difference. Step away from desk walk around the office or take a step outside during breaks. Have lunch outside of the office maybe walk over to a park to have your lunch. Take the stairs when possible. Little changes in activity can greatly affect your resiliency to workplace stressors. When adding the gym to your routine try going at different times, before work, after work, and if possible during a break to try and see what works best for you and your schedule. Southport Fitness provides a local gym option. If you’re interested in yoga check out Chicago Yoga Center. Chicago Primal is an option for those interested in group training.
  4. Support systems are imperative during difficult times, whether it’s coworkers you can lean on or friends, family, therapist or all of the above support in and out of the office a will allow space to discuss and reflect on workplace stress. Maybe on the way home from work you can discuss your day with your partner or someone you are close to letting them know also that them allowing you to discuss is an important way for you to decompress after a stressful day. If there are co-workers who you find particularly supportive, don’t be afraid to use that support to relieve work related stress. And it’s OK to lose yourself in being there for someone else. For example, if you’re looking for gifts for guys, do a bit of shopping to show your appreciation.
  5. Ask for help when you need it. Many times work culture can emphasize self-reliance, but those who excel as well as experience the most happiness in the workplace know when to ask for help. Delegate when appropriate, you don’t have to do it all alone! Don’t be afraid to ask for more training if you feel you’re in a situation outside of your scope of practice or expertise. If your stress levels are too high because you are overwhelmed your productivity may be greatly affected. Asking for help is a sign of effective leadership.
  6. Identify where improvements can be made in work environment and suggest changes when possible. Attempt to have the uncomfortable conversations, yes they are difficult but definitely necessary if you are managing workplace stress. Expressing discomfort respectfully especially when you have a solution attached is central to effective communication in the workplace. For example, if you notice there’s workplace conflict that may be distracting you and your productivity suggest that the office looks into conflict resolution training and provide a list of resources to those who may be able to make it happen.
  7. Consider moderation on your intake of food and drinks that may increase stress inadvertently (i.e. foods high in sugar, salt, fat or caffeine). Replace your morning coffee with tea, have a fruit or nuts as a snack instead of a candy bar or chips. Take note of your water intake. Are you drinking the recommended 8 glasses a day? Start looking at the nutrition facts of the food your eating. Are the high in fat, salt sugar? Look into possible alternative options. The City of Chicago has a simple guide to improving your diet here. If you think you would need more assistance to getting control of your nutrition looks into seeking out a nutrition expert.
  8. Develop a list of at least 6 activities you can do in 5 minutes or less (i.e. walk around the office, breathing exercises, games on your phone, writing, reading, guided meditation etc.). Taking a break to recharge will, reduce stress, increase productivity and allow you to refocus when stress hits. Incorporate these things into your regular routine! Doing these activities regularly not only when stressed will help your overall stress levels and the severity of your stress reactions. Take a look at “10 Quick Tips to Reduce Stress for Chicago” for more tips.
  9. Make sure you engage in leisure activities outside of work, this is imperative to combating burnout and having work stress permeate in other areas of your life. Picking up a hobby that you can get excited about or joining a sports league are great stress busters. Yelp provides a thorough list of Chicago adult art classes (here), self-expression can be a great way to destress. Do312 provides a regular list/calendar of leisure activities throughout Chicago and is easy to navigate. If you’re looking for ways to deal with burnout, take a look at “3 Ways for People in Chicago to Work Through Burnout
  10. Vacation, vacation, vacation, hard work is valued in mid-west culture, so many times we forget to take the time to get away and take a break from the hustle and bustle of day to day work like. Taking time away is extremely important to stress management. No matter how much you may love your job or feel like thing may not function without your presence, time away allows us time to reflect. A vacation may give you a new perspective on how you are managing you work and can give a refreshed vigor if you’re feeling burnt out. Thrillist has a great list of Midwest resorts if you’re interested in more of a staycation (here). And if you’re looking to have someone else to do the planning, check out local travel agents at Travel Zap.
  11. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments, many times at work it is important to be critical but acknowledging your accomplishments will allow you room to reflect, acknowledge, appreciate how you contribute to the workplace and on a larger scale society. A good way to do this may be to list what you’ve done at the end of the day. Review the things crossed off your to-do A stressful day can at times have you feeling defeated, but when you can look back at your own contributions and say wow look what I did it can minimize negative feelings and reduce stress.
  12. Create space and time to decompress after work. Create a ritual, maybe you listen to a certain type of music on the drive home that helps you with the transition from work to home. Or going to the gym after work helps you get work off your mind. Find something that works for you and add it to your routine so that there is a changeover from work to home.
  13. Create healthy boundaries between work and home life, it’s important to separate home and work life. When things blend together too much there is a great potential for increasing stress. An example could be setting times where you do not answer work-related calls or emails and expressing that firm boundary.  Looking for ways to set work boundaries take a look at “5 Effective Ways to Set Realistic Boundaries at Work”.

The APA also has resources related to coping with stress at work. A list of stress management apps can be found here.

By: Marcelo Gonzalez