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5 tips to help you de-stress during the workday (and avoid burnout)
Stressed out and anxious at work? Here’s how to do away with work burnout and feel calmer.
Are you happy at work? In 2021, half of all employees in the United States and Canada said they were stressed out, according to a recent report. And 41% said they were worried. Some workers said they felt angry and sad.1
So if your job is getting to you, you’re not alone. But there are tips and tricks to help you make your workdays better. Here’s what to know and how to get started.
The benefits of feeling happy at work
Having positive vibes during the workday may be good for your health. One recent study found that teachers who are happy at their jobs are more likely to be mentally healthy when they head back home. And people who are happy, wherever they are, often have stronger immune systems and healthier hearts.
Happiness may even make you work harder. It might not seem like it, but your boss probably wants you to be happy too. A study found that happy workers are about 12% more productive. Turns out, feeling good is a win-win for everybody.2
How to make the most of your workday (and avoid burnout)
Many things that happen during your workday are out of your control, but you can make small changes that can have a big impact. Follow these helpful tips:
1. Set priorities. Trying to do too much makes you less productive and can stress you out. It can even lead to job burnout — a specific type of work stress.
A 2017 study linked job burnout to health problems like heart disease, diabetes and insomnia.3 (Insomnia is when you have trouble sleeping.) Plus, some experts say that working on more than 1 task at the same time (multitasking) can lead to anxiety and depression.
“Multitasking isn’t as successful as people think it is,” says Lynn Bufka, PhD. She’s a psychologist with the American Psychological Association.
Instead, she says, it’s better to figure out which tasks are most important. “Prioritize the most urgent things and figure out how to focus on them.” You’ll accomplish more and feel better.
Try this: Experiment to find the best way to organize all the tasks you need to do. Try organizing apps like Any.do or Todoist. Or make a color-coded list in a notebook. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. And don’t feel bad if the items that are lower on your list get bumped to tomorrow.
(P.S. Want to learn more about job burnout? Check out Optum’s “Until It’s Fixed” podcast episode on burnout and quiet quitting.)
2. Take control. Even with a high-stress job, you can gain some control with “job crafting.” That means finding a way to adjust your job to match your talents and the way you work best.
Try this: Talk to your boss about making some small changes. Maybe you can:
- Ask if you can work from home a few days a week.
- See if you can shift your hours to fit the times of day when you have more energy.
- Take on new tasks that fit your skills. Pass other tasks to somebody else.
Before you ask for any of the above, think about how these changes can help your employer. Studies show that feeling in control at work lowers your risk of physical health concerns, including stroke.4 And being a happy, healthy worker makes your boss’s job easier too.
3. Find healthy ways to de-stress. Almost everyone has trouble dealing with stress at work. After a tough day, it may seem easy to soothe yourself with junk food or a glass of wine. But this can bring on poor mental and physical health in the long run.
Instead, Bufka suggests, find simple ways to stay healthy. Drink plenty of water and get more exercise, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Your mental health is important too, she points out. “Do you get enough sleep?” she asks. “Do you have a sense of purpose? What about your spiritual and social life? All these things are important to your happiness.”
Try this: Healthy ways to deal with stress look different for everybody. “Find the routine that brings you joy, whether it’s going outside each day, cuddling your child or your dog, or spending a few minutes alone to get ready for the day ahead,” Bufka advises. “Find what works for you and give yourself permission to do them.”
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4. Focus on the positive. Negative thoughts can be bad for your health. Too much negative thinking can lead to regular stress. That can put you at higher risk for some health issues. Pay attention if you’re having thoughts like I can never finish this or My boss is a monster.
Try this: Bufka suggests this easy exercise: Write down your negative thought on an index card. For example, I’m not good at writing reports. Then flip the card over and replace that negative thought with a positive one. You might write: My boss wants me to do this because she likes my work, or Each time I do this, it gets a little easier.
5. Get the help you need. Feeling bad every day? You might need to talk through your problems. Check your UnitedHealthcare policy to learn about your mental health benefits.
Sign into your account online or call the number on the back of your ID card. You can find a provider who can help. You may even be able to schedule an in-person or virtual visit.
These professionals can help you see if your unhappiness is a sign of anxiety or depression. Another option: Most large companies offer mental health support as part of their employee benefits package. Seek out help if you need it.5
Try this: If these strategies don’t help you find greater happiness at work, it may be time to look for a new job. And if you’ve been trying to be more positive and do more work, another employer may scoop you up.
Whether you stay at a job or go doesn’t matter in the long run. You’ll know that you did all you could to be the best you could be.
- Gallup. State of the global workplace, 2022 report. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- University of Warwick. New study shows we work harder when we are happy. Accessed January 26, 2023.
- PLOS. Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout. Accessed January 25, 2023.
- Journal of the American Medical Association. Association of Psychosocial Stress With Risk of Acute Stroke. Published December 9, 2022. Accessed February 13, 2023.
- Jama Network. Clinical and financial outcomes associated with a workplace mental health program before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last revised June 9, 2022. Accessed January 26, 2023.
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