10 Subtle Ways You Can Handle Stress at Work

Wondering how can you keep your cool when you're feeling stressed or anxious at work? Try one of these 10 tips!  

They're all deceptively simple – each seems small, but holds potential for highly effective relief. Give one of these self-soothing techniques a go to calm your body the next time you're feeling stressed at work!

1. Apply cool water over your face or eyes

Feeling overheated with overwhelm? Cool yourself down, literally.

Apply cool water to your face with your hands, place a wet towel over your eyes, or apply a Ziploc bag filled with cool water.

Over the course of 15-30 seconds, you’ll find your heart slows down and blood flow to non-essential organs will be slightly reduced. This can work well for anyone in a stressful situation – including police officers or EMTs who respond to highly stressful situations, and lawyers right before or after they come out of court.

2. Run cool water over your hands

Don't want water on your face? Run cool water over the back and in the palms of your hand instead.

It’s important to note that very cold water will not have the same effect (and might actually put you at risk for more anxiety/stress), so near-freezing waters are not recommended.

3. Grab a cool bottle of water or soda

One final way to get instant cool: Put your hand on either side of the bottle or can. You may even get enough condensation to wipe the water across your hands.

This can be especially helpful when entering a meeting, or as a refresher during a long meeting without others noticing you’re using a self-soothing strategy.

4. Visualize a happy association

Remembering a pleasant memory can trigger the emotions that go with it – and shift your emotional state for the better.

Utilize the senses to engage pleasant memories. These might include a trip you took in the past, the image of your pet, or a fun outing with friends.

5. Pop in your earphones for pleasant music

Take advantage of audio sensory recall through some BGM.

Listen to a song or playlist that brings to mind a specific happy moment, such as music from the '80s, or a song you heard in a yoga or meditation retreat.

6. Deeply notice the smell of coffee or tea

Like sound, smell is also a powerful tool.

Take 60 seconds to engage your sense of smell. Pause and deeply notice the smell of coffee, tea, or even apple juice, and ground yourself in the present.

7. Duck out of work to take a walk!

Taking a walk is a powerful way to engage multiple senses at the same time.

While you're out, notice the sound of the bustling city – how the sky peeks through the buildings, what pleasant noises cut through the cacophony. Anything that heightens your awareness and mindfulness can have calming effects on the brain.

8. Try progressive relaxation

If you can't pop out for a mindful stroll or splash some cool water on your face, try squeezing in one of these simple, body-based stress relief exercises instead – you can even do them from your desk!

To practice progressive relaxation: starting at your toes and working your way up to your neck, slowly tense and then relax your muscles, one group at a time. Even if you can just work your way though one part of your body, it's a great way to check in and release tension.

9. Practice square breathing

Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out. Then, gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of 4. Hold at the top of the breath for a count of 4. Then gently exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for the count of 4.

10. Assess your anxiety levels

Simply “getting rid” of an emotional state, such as anxiety, is difficult – but what we can do is assess where you are on a scale of 0 (no anxiety) to 10 (I really need help), and take steps to bring that anxiety down one level at a time.

If you’re at an 8 or 9, first recognize the fact that you’ve identified where you are on this scale, and try some of the techniques aboves.

Think of a happy memory, put on some music, or try splashing water on your face.

After you’ve tried them, reassess where you are — were you able to go down one notch from a 9 to an 8?

Try practicing these techniques today, before you feel anxious or stressed at work. That way, as soon as you enter the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ moment, you can automatically tap into these steps on the coy – and start bringing down your anxiety level.