Having a bad day at work? For some, work stress is literally a killer. For many others, stress surrounding work is causing poor mental and physical health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) in their 2015 “Stress Snapshot,” more people report experiencing extreme levels of stress than in the past, and it is impacting our health, both physically and mentally.
This is even truer for people struggling with addictions. When you’re living in a culture that is just hanging in there until 5:00 pm, and then heading to the bar (or wherever it is) to self-medicate stress, it can be hard to abstain. We can’t all snap our fingers and be in jobs we love, completely free of stress. We can, however, take steps to destress when having a bad day at work. Here are some of the best strategies for doing just that.
It’s not about you
Everyone has bad days at work, and an endless list of factors can cause them. When your bad day happens, don’t take it personally. Coworkers, bosses, employees, and even strangers might be angry, frustrated, stressed, upset, or just plain rude when you see them—but that’s not about you, so don’t internalize those feelings, behaviors, or actions.
Once you’ve let go of the idea that there’s a permanent link between you and the negativity that caused the day, it’s easier to relax.
Avoid weaponizing email
Our culture moves at an amazingly fast pace thanks to tools like email. Most of us hit “send” before we think too much, and in many situations, that’s fine. Not at work, and especially not when you’re having a bad day.
When you get a message, or something else happens that hurts you, don’t just fire off a response. Wait at least one hour. Once you feel calmer, revisit the issue or the message. Respond to it without over-dramatizing or upping the ante.
Move for ten minutes
Walking, climbing stairs, even a quick run outside, any kind of movement helps wake up your mind and produce endorphins. Those little chemicals give you that natural high that helps reduce stress hormone levels. A brisk walk outside in a green space, in particular, can improve your mood and lower stress levels.
Yoga with meditation
Focusing on your breathing, visualization, and doing yoga both fill your blood with oxygen and helps ease tension. Medical researchers have shown that breathing exercises help remind your body how it feels when it’s calm and peaceful, which can help you relax. Stress causes shallow breathing, which in turns triggers your sympathetic nervous system, the home of panic and rage. In contrast, deep breathing stimulates a calming parasympathetic reaction.
It can be hard, but sometimes you have to do it. It’s impossible to really destress if your phone is alerting you about micro-fires for you to put out every two minutes. Just for a couple of hours, turn off the laptop, phone, tablet, all of it. You may be surprised to find that you and the rest of the world survive!
Eat healthy snacks (and plan ahead so you’ve got them)
Blood sugar that spikes and plummets is the enemy of anyone who hopes to feel calm, not to mention productive. Snacks with protein and healthy fats keep you going for longer, and save you from the vending machine crimes we all commit sometimes. Try dried fruit, yogurt, protein bars, granola, dips like hummus, or nuts.
Relax in the shower or bath
Leave it there
Before bad days happen, establish an end-of-the-workday routine. This daily practice will remind your body and brain that work is over. This way, it’s easier to leave work behind, no matter what your day was like.
Confide in someone you trust
Talk to someone you trust and who you speak to freely and without filters or judgment. You need to vent and be heard, but you’ll also benefit from thoughtful, outside advice. Sometimes it takes someone from outside to help you put events into perspective.
Laugh about it
Laughing relieves stress and produces a relaxation that’s even physical. Take time out to share a laugh with work friends, or take a quick break to read a joke or look at funny animal photos—whatever lets you really enjoy and laugh.
Enjoy your low-stress time
Work is a place where stress lives, at least sometimes. They key is to not invite stress to bunk with you 24/7. The next time you’re having a bad day, try these ways to de-stress. It’s great for your mental health, no matter who you are, and if you’re in recovery, it’s that much more critical for your good health.