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5 simple, science-backed tips for beating stress at work

(Photo credit: Cecilie_Arcurs/iStock)

Over the long run, common-sense measures like getting enough sleep, exercise and quality time with friends and family are ideal for keeping stress manageable. But what happens when you need a quick fix for a pressure-cooker situation at work? Here are five science-backed ways to tackle tension on the job.

1. Go ahead, vent about your co-worker

Taking the high road may not be such a good idea after all — staying mum about a co-worker’s misdeeds may actually be more nerve-wracking than disclosing them. A 2012 study from California showed that heart rates rose in volunteers who watched gamers cheat in silence, but stayed level in those who warned other players with a gossipy note. Feelings of frustration and annoyance also improved considerably in the group who tattled.

Note: Vent the right way. Share information out of concern for others, not spite or boredom. And don’t feed the rumour mill with dubious information — being caught in a lie can lead to even more distress.

2. Take a tea break

Big presentation coming up? According to a 2007 study from the United Kingdom, enjoying a warm brew could help you recover faster from a stressful situation. Fifty minutes after an anxiety-inducing task, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in men who drank four cups of tea per day dropped almost twice as much compared to those who drank sham caffeinated tea. Although scientists aren’t sure exactly which chemicals cause its relaxing effects, it may be time to replace that boardroom water pitcher with a kettle.

Note: Be sure not to overdo it. Downing more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, or the equivalent of five to six cups of tea, can worsen health conditions like insomnia and anxiety.

3. Strike a (power) pose

If you’re feeling nervous before a job or promotion interview, taking a moment to assume a ‘power pose’ might increase your chances of success. In a 2010 study from Columbia University, people who were guided into two assertive body positions for just one minute each enjoyed spiking testosterone, falling cortisol and higher appetite for risk compared to clammed-up posers.  Imagine what you could accomplish if you tweaked your body language all day long!

Note: Follow-up research found that although power posers reported feeling more self-assured, their hormone levels and risk-taking behaviours didn’t budge. While the jury is still out on the exact benefits of a superhero stance, at the very least your confidence will get a boost.

4. Nature break

Lunch at a nearby park after a particularly hectic morning could be just what the doctor ordered to unwind. After only 15 minutes, men in a 2011 study from Japan who sat outdoors in green space had notably reduced cortisol levels and heart rates than when they lounged in a cityscape. If work stress is making you scatterbrained, keep in mind that a 20-minute walk in a park worked as well as Ritalin to improve concentration scores in Chicago children with ADHD.

Note: Every little bit counts, so consider greening your coffee breaks, too. And it goes without saying, of course: unplug from your mobile device and be mindful of your natural surroundings for maximum benefit.

5. Put on a happy face

Slapping on a smile is probably the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed with deadlines and work commitments — but it should be one of the first. A 2012 study in the Psychological Science journal revealed that people who smiled during a stressful task had significantly lower heart rates afterwards, even if they were sneakily manipulated into a beaming expression without being aware of it. Fake it ‘til you make it, indeed.

Note: How genuine your grin appears does make a difference. Participants whose smiles engaged their entire faces recovered the fastest, so unleash that twinkle!