what kind of therapy or practice will help my work stress?
January 12, 2014 7:22 PM   Subscribe

My new job is really stressful. The tools we use are slow, buggy, and unreliable; while the pace is frantic and the volume of the work is extremely high. During the day, my stress levels often rise to the point where I'm holding my breath and my heart is pounding, even though I'm just sitting there -- in fact, I'm often sitting there for hours at a time, because there's so much to do, I can't even get up and take a stretching break to calm down. I'd like to develop the ability to calm myself down quickly and reliably. Have you taught yourself to do this? How?

This is one of those things where perspective doesn't really help. I know intellectually that it is just not a big deal in the universe, and probably not even for my family, maybe not even for my career, if some of this junk doesn't get done, or gets done more slowly. But this doesn't help me during the day when the emails are flying, the directors are calling, the Windows ball is spinning and I get completely overwhelmed. I find myself holding my breath like I remember myself doing in junior high. Often it takes me hours to calm down after the work day is over.

Sometimes I am afraid I am going to have a heart attack.

A healthy exercise habit would be helpful, but a foot injury is preventing me from running safely, and the gym is far away and requires time I don't really have to get there and back. Plus honestly, by the end of the day I'm sometimes so agitated I feel like I'm not safe to drive.

Has anyone developed a method for interrupting the stress cyclone?
posted by fingersandtoes to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I feel your pain. I've taken to doing 3 sun salutations in the office - it does help. Takes not even 8 minutes. Really, just getting out of the chair, walking a bit, and looking out the window helps.

Also, is there anything you can do to be proactive about improving the tools? Taking action can reduce stress. I have worked in a lot of places with inferior tools and now that I work somewhere with excellent ones, I am amazed at how much less stressful it is. I think it is a stress factor that is widely underestimated.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

in fact, I'm often sitting there for hours at a time, because there's so much to do, I can't even get up and take a stretching break to calm down.

Yes, yes you can. Take a break, take a walk around the block, and clear your head.

There's a level of diminishing returns when you're on the hamster wheel. Sometimes forcing yourself to take a break forces you to get a new perspective, and perhaps with that, a more efficient way to face the onslaught.
posted by mochapickle at 7:42 PM on January 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I guessed there would be papers on this for notoriously stressful desk jobs, and indeed Occupational stress and stress prevention in air traffic control mentions several things that might be within your control on pages 21-24. Among relevant therapies/practices, massage, yoga, meditation and autogenous training get called out by name.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:46 PM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Some may say that Emotional Freedom Technique or "tapping" is new age ridiculousness, but learning to do this during high stress times has been awesome for me. Really. You can find some good examples on YouTube. Even a modified, public-friendly version is helpful for me.

I'm going to also say that you need to find 5 minutes to even do some deep belly mindful breathing. There have got to be a few minutes during the day you can cobble together.

Take care!
posted by mamabear at 7:46 PM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Even if you can't take 8 minutes, take 15 seconds every four hours. Stand up, close your eyes, take a deep slow breath, slowly stretch your arms above your head, hold, and release your breath and lower your arms. Take another deep slow breath, exhale and bend over to touch your fingers to the ground (or as close as you can come), inhale while straightening back up one vertebra at a time (and inhale.) Set an alarm to do this, if you have to.

I understand how this feels - one of the ways I knew I wasn't cut out for floor nursing was that I frequently went the whole shift without eating, drinking, or peeing. But that's not the way successful nurses go about doing their jobs. They manage their time rigorously but take the few minutes they need, recognizing that there will always be more work to be done.
posted by gingerest at 7:48 PM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When you find yourself panicking or holding your breath, try some deep breathing exercises. I get very irked by the exercises that require counting - because I am IMPATIENT and DON'T HAVE TIME TO COUNT ... but when I make myself do them, they help.

Grounding exercises sometimes also help me with panic. There are some more formal practices online but I will just start by (mentally) naming things I can see, then things I can hear, and things I can touch. It helps me get out of my head.

Another thing you might consider to help with your panic is a different job.
posted by bunderful at 7:52 PM on January 12, 2014

Best answer: A couple of people touched on breathing. You might try learning box breathing, also called four-square breathing. You can do that at your desk in a minute or two.
posted by kovacs at 8:03 PM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

As everyone else has said—you have to take occasional breaks to breathe deeply (through your nose to avoid hyperventilating), stretch, and/or walk down the hall, get a drink, and go to the bathroom.
posted by limeonaire at 8:03 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a similarly stressful tech job...I have fixed more bugs while taking a break from the keyboard than while trying to brute force my way through them staring at the debugger. Stretching, brief walks, glasses of water, calming music, push-ups, etc, all help, but the key for me was realizing that taking care of my health and managing my stress levels is part and parcel of doing a good job. Don't let yourself feel guilty about taking needed breaks; you are being responsible for keeping yourself in action and productive, not slacking off.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:04 PM on January 12, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: What helps me is slowing down and doing one thing at a time. I also talk about what I'm doing as I'm doing it: "I'm going to look up your information, but the computer will take about a minute to do that. While we're waiting, what was your question?" "This computer is really slow, so bear with me."

This is sort of a boundary-negotiation thing; if you deal with impatient people, making sure they're OK waiting is huge-- "This will take about ten full minutes, do you have that time?" If that's how long it takes, telling them that will take the pressure off you to perform to their expectations, which may be unreasonable. If you have the option, I also recommend telling your client what your plan is: "First I'll do XYZ, then I need to do ABC, and then I will complete your task by (time.)" This gives me the feeling of being in control over my time, which is relaxing. It also manages the expectations of my client.

Most people who do not do your actual job have no idea how long it's going to take or what the actual effort involved is, which always makes me feel like I'm totally unappreciated and expected to work faster than is possible. Laying out how long it will take me and expressing my needs in terms of order verbally gives me back some control over what is a long day plagued by random client visits, random malfunctions, and random requests. (People also really appreciate it when you slightly under-promise and slightly over-deliver.)

You sound like you have a lot to do. Pick some things that you can realistically do, and then do them. Skip everything else. The list of stuff you didn't do will freak you out, but you need to let go of the idea of perfection! You can only do one thing at a time. You will work on the highest-priority thing and not anything else. Concentrating on the one thing you are doing right at that moment and focusing on doing it right is both more satisfying and less stressful because you'll feel like you're actually getting somewhere, even if the somewhere is not especially impressive. And you do it again tomorrow. "Slow and steady" is safer for you and long-term more productive than starting, multitasking, stopping, and getting stressed out.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:22 PM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Try a 3 minute breathing space.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2014

Best answer: Do you make a daily to-do list? I'm serious. Keep a notebook on your desk and take 10 minutes every day before you go home to make a list of everything you need to do the next day. This helps in two ways:

1. It helps you meditate and organize your thoughts so you don't have to take your work-brain home with you, and
2. It gives you a clean start the next morning because you'll have a record of most of the things you have to do.

Make the list as granular as you like. After all, it's fun to cross things off. Heck, the first item on your list could be Sit Down At Desk. And yeah, your list isn't going to include all the crazy ad-hoc things that'll come up every day. But it will save you some time because you'll spend less time between open issues wondering, Ok, where was I?
posted by mochapickle at 9:01 PM on January 12, 2014

Response by poster: Hopefully this won't get erased as a threadsit. Just wanted to say thank you; it has actually been helpful to have this thread open as I worked tonight and feel like the Internet (for once!) is sympathizing; and even the simple breathing stuff that I was able to incorporate tonight feels like a bit of an improvement… I'm optimistic…

Bunderful, look for the issue raised in your third point in next week's question :)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:07 PM on January 12, 2014

Best answer: I had a similar job last year. I was on conference calls all day, I had multiple projects, with multiple deadlines, and mutilple project managers to answer to. Incredibly high stress. At any moment during my working day I could get everything derailed to sit through an all-day conference call that I had to be at. I had to monitor IM clients, an endless stream of emails, and balance the demands of multiple project managers.During deployment days I would often work for 12 hours straight. No breaks, no lulls in work, for 12 hours.

The stress was pretty bad. I disabled my IM client's "new message" notification sound because it triggered anxiety attacks. I was crying in my car during lunch breaks, due to the stress.

I was seeing a therapist who was pretty useless. I got into meditation pretty heavily, and I was biking frequently. I tried CBT. I had multiple hobbies. I tried anti-anxiety meds, but they made me too dizzy to work.

I found that the only thing that worked, to alleviate my stress and anxiety, was alcohol. A tumbler glass of whiskey at night. That's no fix.

What fixed it for good was leaving, for good.

I don't know how attached you are to this job, but if it's anything like what I experienced, there is going to be no end to the stress. It's not going to get better.

There are other companies out there that do not burn their employees out. You'd be a valuable addition to any of them.
posted by hellojed at 1:19 AM on January 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Three minutes on an exercise bike in the mornings? Exercise bikes are pretty cheap if you have space (and folding ones have about the same footprint as an office chair when folded). Or if you want to try running when your foot injury clears up, I actually use a mini trampoline and just run in place on that. After the three minutes the legs come off the trampoline, and it slides behind the sofa. Although I'd recommend starting with one sprint interval and moving up to three over a couple of weeks.
posted by danteGideon at 3:51 AM on January 14, 2014

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