#1 Take a break
Workplace stress is hitting Americans hard. A recent survey shows that two-thirds of U.S. workers reported extremely high stress levels in the past year. Thirty percent said they were too stressed to be effective at their job for at least five days in 2011. Don’t accept stress as just another part of your job. There are several strategies you can — and should — use to bring your levels down. You might think every minute counts, but taking short breaks between tasks can actually help you stay focused and productive. Think of them as mini rewards for completing one job before moving onto the next. Taking a step back can also help you put your workload in perspective. If you’re afraid of things falling through the cracks, keep a to-do list or use an electronic task manager so you’re not constantly worrying about assignments you may have forgotten. Also, make the most of your downtime. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV, schedule activities that cheer you up, like having lunch with a friend or watching a funny movie. Having things you look forward to outside of work can help combat burnout.
#2 Master new skills
“No pain, no gain” may be a fallacy when it comes to working out, but research shows it’s good advice when seeking happiness. According to a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies, working hard to master a new skill, though it causes significant momentary stress, leads to greater long-term contentment. Setbacks and frustration often cause many of us to give up on our goals. But, when it’s for something we care about, pushing ourselves to overcome obstacles helps us achieve more satisfaction in life. Even if your dream feels impossible, go for it anyway.
#3 Take the stairs
Skip the elevator and take the stairs. According to a study in the journal Preventive Medicine, our expanding waistlines may have a lot to do with our on-the-job activities — or, rather, lack thereof. Researchers found that workers move significantly less during the workday than we used to. Fitting small bursts of exercise into your day, such as taking the stairs or walking during your breaks, could make it easier to meet daily fitness recommendations, say the authors. A 2010 study of sedentary workers found that using the stairs at work can help improve cardiovascular fitness, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
#4 Sneak in a power nap
Feel like putting your head down on your desk for a few minutes? Even if your boss considers it slacking, we don’t. Research shows that fighting your internal clock can decrease job performance. When your energy starts to slip, powering down for a 15- to 20-minute nap can help increase reaction time, boost critical thinking skills and rejuvenate you. The more hours we go without sleep, the more sluggish our minds become. Just be sure to keep it brief: Dozing for more than 30 minutes can leave you in an even groggier state and potentially impact your sleep quality and sleep length at night. And if you do decide to rest your head on your desk to catch a few zzz’s, just be careful not to drool on your PowerPoint presentation.
#5 Make friends at work
Connecting with your colleagues could add years to your life. According to a study in the journal Health Psychology, working alongside people you consider friendly and helpful is associated with a smaller risk of all-cause mortality than working with people you don’t feel supported by. Other research has shown that having a strong network of friends can help keep us healthy and young — but having 500 friends on Facebook doesn’t count. Superficial connections can’t stave off loneliness or health problems the way close social ties can. On-the-job relationships are just one way people can stay connected. If you’re a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of person, try to take a few minutes each day to establish a bond with your office mates. Taking periodic breaks from work to socialize can help you decompress from a stressful workday — which is also good for your health.
#6 Practice good posture
If you spend several hours a day at your computer, maintaining a proper workstation layout and practicing good posture can help minimize the risk of injuries, aches and pains. Use these ergonomic tips to help your body assume a neutral, strain-free position: Sit upright — no hunching or slouching — with your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Your back should be fully supported by your seat, with lumbar support. Keep your shoulders relaxed, allowing your upper arms to hang naturally. Your elbows should be close to the body and bent between 90 and 120 degrees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your knees should be close to the same height as your hips. Keep your monitor about an arm’s length away; the top of the screen should be eye level, so that you can read it without craning your neck up or down. Also, be sure to stand up and walk around several times an hour to allow your body to stretch.
#7 Leave work at the office
Americans have cut back a little on time they previously spent relaxing, according to the 2010 American Time Use Survey. The survey shows that work-life changes since 2009 affected women more than men: Women worked more hours overall than they did two years ago, especially on weekends. Now a survey from the University of Rochester shows how that affects health. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, study participants were in a better mood, showed greater vitality, and had fewer aches and pains, among other things, a phenomenon known as “the weekend effect.” Why such positives only on weekends? The research explains that having the freedom to choose one’s activities and having opportunities to spend time with loved ones are top reasons. The researchers suggest working some of the weekend effect into your workweek: Make time for friends and loved ones, participate in a hobby, and do your best to relax.
#8 Learn good sleep habits
You probably don’t need a scientific study to tell you that insomnia and work don’t mix. And yet there is one: the America Insomnia Survey, which used a national sample of 7,428 employed health plan subscribers. The results, which were reported in the journal SLEEP, clearly showed that insomnia is associated with substantial workplace costs — to the tune of $63.2 billion a year! Between the cost of absenteeism for the employer and health care costs, the numbers add way up. And that’s not including the cost to the employee — lost wages and even losing a job. The researchers recommend trials to test if some of these costs could be recovered with insomnia disease-management programs. In the meantime, what can you do to ensure quantity and quality sleep and fewer lost workdays? Try these tips from Michelle Drerup, PsyD, a sleep psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center:
• Keep consistent go-to-sleep and wake-up times throughout the entire week (weekends too!)
• Reduce your coffee intake, especially within six hours of bedtime
• Nix nicotine
• Avoid alcohol within four hours of bedtime
• Keep your bedroom cool, dark and noise-free
• Exercise regularly, but not within three hours of bedtime
• Practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation — and even walking — to reduce stress
Having sleep difficulties? Improve your sleep, starting this week, with our online program.
#9 Update your résumé
Being unemployed for a long time can take its toll on a person’s mental health, as anyone who’s been out of work knows. That’s why taking the first position you’re offered can be tempting — especially when the bills are piling up. But if it’s not a job you want, you may want to hold out for something better. Research shows that taking a job that’s beneath you is even worse for your emotional health than being unemployed. According to the study, demanding jobs that offer little control, support or reward are bad for your well-being. Even though we all love to gripe about hating our jobs, research shows that we benefit from them, because they provide a sense of purpose and the opportunity for friendships. If your job is draining your emotional reserves, it may be time to update your résumé and call the headhunter.
#10 Forget sitting still
Fidget your way to fitness. Moving around constantly throughout the day can help combat a sedentary lifestyle. Researchers have found that incidental activities like walking to the water cooler or fidgeting can have a cumulative effect on one’s cardiovascular fitness — provided one moves quickly enough and often enough. Try to include short bursts of activity, like climbing stairs, walking briskly around the office or cleaning up around the house, throughout the day. As an added incentive, clip on a pedometer to see how many steps you take daily. If you haven’t met your quota of 10,000 steps by the end of the day, enlist friends or family members to join you for a summer’s evening walk or bike ride.