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5 Tips for Staving Off Stress -- at Work and in Life

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you find yourself thriving in stressful situations? Buzzing with energy and feeding off moments of high anxiety? 


Stress can be like a performance-enhancement drug. It heightens our senses to ensure we function at our best. The body’s stress response has evolved over thousands of years to react to dangers such as a wooly mammoth stampede or happening upon an angry bear. It's designed to, as described by Dr. Michael Roizen in his book, You Staying Young, “heighten all of our biological systems” to ensure we can do things like RUN!

Sounds like a great thing, right? Who wouldn't want to operate at optimum efficiency all the time? And because stress is a completely natural response, what’s the harm?

Unfortunately, your body isn't designed to experience stress 24/7. It’s akin to leaving the oven running -- eventually, it’s going to burn the house down.

Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress suggests that "stress increases productivity up to a point, after which things rapidly deteriorate.” People’s bodies can tolerate different levels of stress, just as some people can lift heavier weights at the gym while others cannot. However, stress is cumulative. Eventually, everyone reaches their limit.

Over the past 10 years as a speaker, coach and consultant, I've had the opportunity to see how stress effects thousands of business owners and their employees. When you experience too much anxiety over a long period of time, even a small occurrence can drastically increase the strain you feel.

Here are five strategies to reduce your own stress levels in the workplace:

1. Focus on the what and the why

Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you have to complete or feeling stressed about a specific task, knowing what you’re trying to achieve and why it’s important to you will serve as a great stress reliever.

2. Plan the work, and work the plan

Strategize what you need to accomplish the night before, plan your day in such a way that allows extra time to accomplish each task, and stick to that plan as closely as possible.

Giving yourself extra time to complete tasks will ensure your entire day isn't thrown off course by unforeseen occurrences or “fires” that can crop up. Planning the night before will also ensure you don’t fall victim to forgetting an early meeting, allow you to feel 100 percent on top of things, and enable your brain to unconsciously begin working on tomorrow’s tasks and problem-solving.

While we still have a lot to learn about the unconscious mind, I find that when I schedule time to fix a problem in my daily plan, by the next day I seem to already have the answer. When I fail to do so, though, I could spend a day on a tough problem and get nowhere.

3. Take brief breaks

If you’re experiencing a great deal of pressure or starting to feel burned out, a brief break will give your mind and body a short period of rest so you can jump back to the task refreshed -- and without getting too off-track.

Taking a short break and getting some fresh air is sometimes all it takes for a total reset. Simply breathing deeply gives your brain the oxygen it needs to kick a mental roadblock out of the way and progress with work.

4. Flexibility

Always schedule one or two non-urgent tasks when planning your day. That way, if an unexpected occurrence transpires, you can feel comfortable concentrating on that and rescheduling these tasks to a later date.

Trying to pack all of your urgent work into a single day leaves you no room to shift anything and it greatly increases stress. Prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed by planning smarter.

5. Share the load

Debriefing with your manager, team leader or fellow business owners can alleviate the stress you feel. Tell them what’s happening in your career or what's occurring throughout the day that makes you feel so overwhelmed. Chances are that getting it off your chest will lessen some of the anxiety you feel.

There have been times I've shared a few stories about customers that have driven me crazy and found that the simple act of telling someone turned the taxing situation into an entertaining story and allowed the stress to melt away.

In addition to these strategies, you can also give your body a head start. Some people can lift more weights at the gym because they've spent time preparing their body to do so. You can also prep your body to better tolerate stress.

Incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your everyday routine, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet and get enough rest. These seemingly basic activities greatly improve productivity and critical thinking as well as the mitigation of stress.

Preparing my body for stress also allows me to get more achieved in less time, which in turn also reduces the likelihood of more stress. You’ll be a calmer and more productive presence at work -- and in your life. 

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