Not all stress is bad.
Stress can help you perform better and work harder both in the workplace and elsewhere. But sometimes too much of even "good" stress can be overwhelming and lead to fantasies of curling into the fetal position under the desk, familiarizing co-workers with a specific finger or simply walking out the door forever. Let's not let it come to that. These tips will help you find calm, focus and even a little happiness during your most stressful workplace moments.
"If you have the flexibility to do something else, get into a task that's going to take your attention away from whatever is frustrating you," says David Reiss, a psychiatrist based in San Diego. This can apply to co-workers, too. Put aside that exasperating email thread with Bob. Take a break from that project you've been stewing over for the last few hours, and work on something else for a while.
It feels good to be nice, so Gretchen Rubin, author of "The Happiness Project," suggests doing a good deed to ease workplace frustrations. Email a co-worker helpful information, make an introduction or simply lend a hand to whomever is changing the copier paper, she says.
Slow down with mindful meditation.
For those moments when you feel swept in the current of deadlines, emails and phone calls -- when you can barely tread water -- try this technique called Instachill, from Victor Davich, author of "8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life." First, close your eyes and take a big breath in, and then sigh it out. Now relax, breathe naturally and locate where in your body you feel stressed. Focus on this spot, while allowing those muscles to move naturally. When another thought drifts into your head, gently return your focus to the stress spot, and stay there. After a few minutes, slowly open your eyes and note how you feel now -- hopefully your head is higher above the water.
Ease shoulder tension.
Stretching moves your muscles, releases tension and shifts your focus to your breath. Try this move that Tara Stiles, instructor behind the ulive.com video series Yoga Rebel, dubs "eagle arms," which releases shoulder tension. With a slight bend in your elbows, stretch your arms in front of you. Wrap one arm over the other, hook your hands and inhale deeply as you lift your arms straight up over your head. Now exhale. Added bonus: You can do this stretch while sitting at your desk.
And stretch your back and hamstrings, too.
Stiles suggests another stretch: Simply stand straight with your chest open and your arms loose, and take a big breath in. Breathe out as you bend forward, over your legs, with your knees slightly bent. Sway slightly. This stretch "gets the blood flowing to your head, so you feel more refreshed when you roll up to stand," says Stiles, adding that while it's a little more conspicuous than a seated move, "It's nice for when you're picking up a paper clip or something."
Jump up and down, do jumping jacks at your desk or skip around the room, Rubin suggests. "There's something very childlike and energetic about getting those feet off the ground," she says. "And you will feel very goofy if other people can see you, so that will affect your mood as well."
And if you're not feeling particularly goofy?
Run up and down the stairs, or go for a 10-minute walk -- preferably outside. "Moving around will boost your energy, but being in the sunlight will help even more," says Rubin, pointing out that even on cloudy days, there's more light outside than inside. "That in itself gives you a lift and helps your focus and mood."
Ask yourself: Is this stress or abuse?
If you're swimming in workplace anxiety, Reiss says it's key to differentiate between stress and abuse. And the line between the two is not always clear, so consider chatting with a third party, such as a human resources staff person or a friend who can be objective and tell it to you straight. "If it's harassment that's disrupting your ability to work, then you have to take appropriately assertive, calm actions." (And that's another article.)
Get some perspective.
If you're miserable, look for another job, Reiss says. But if you're facing typical workplace stress -- frustrations, disappointments and personality conflicts -- consider Reiss' tough love: "That's why they call it work. You don't expect to go there and have fun," he says. "You expect to go there and get paid." Try to solidify boundaries. Remember that your co-workers are not your family members, and when you leave your workplace each day, you should leave your work, too. Focusing on the non-work aspects of your life, such as relationships and hobbies, will help you gain some perspective.