Company doctor: Coping with stress is key to executive performance

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

When we are stressed out, we tend to deal with it in unhealthy ways, like comfort eating, making other poor diet choices, drinking, smoking or inactivity.

Stress in the workplace can have many origins or come from a single event. For many of us, the workday ends with an assortment of physical maladies, including headaches, muscle aches, chest pains, pounding heart, fatigue and indigestion. Some of us also experience psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, irritability, anger and sometimes depression and feelings of helplessness.

Eating right and keeping fit, along with aerobics, meditation and other strategies can reduce the stress in your life. Studies have found that increasing your amount of physical activity increases your cognitive ability and makes you a more productive worker.

The average executive spends up to 60 hours a week at their offices and workstations. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, health care expenses are 50 percent higher for workers who report high stress levels.

While working with a personal trainer, we have developed a number of strategies that can be used during your workday and reduce the level of stress we all experience.

1.    Sitting with good posture when you are working will reduce shoulder and back pain. Your head should be over your shoulders and your shoulder blades should be down and back. Your lower back should display its natural lordotic curve.

2.    Be sure your computer screen is at eye level or slightly below. Be careful not to crane you neck when working on the computer. Your keyboard should be at a level that allows your elbows to be at right angles and forearms parallel to the floor. Stress to your wrist and hand can be reduced by the use of mouse and wrist supports.

3.     Resist holding your telephone between your ear and shoulder. This will increase the stress in your neck and upper back and can lead to muscle imbalance. The use of a speakerphone or a headset will prevent this from occurring.

4.     When working on an important project, try to reduce interruptions by letting incoming calls go to voicemail or have someone else pick up your calls. Set your email for an automatic response that advises the sender to know that you are busy and will return the email at a later time. Designate a time each day when you will review your emails and respond.

5.     Increase your level of daily exercise. Use your lunch hour to take a brisk walk with co-workers. If you can, walk or bike to work or develop a morning exercise routine.

6.    You can reduce computer-related eye strain by taking a two minute break every half hour. Get up, walk and stretch your back.

7.    If you experience a particularly stressful situation during the day, close your eyes and take several slow deep breaths. You may wish to practice “imaging” when you recreate an image in your mind of a calm and peaceful place. For example, white sandy beaches in the Caribbean or a snowy mountain slope in Montana.

8.    Approach each day with a plan. Planning your work on a daily, weekly and monthly basis reduces stress. Reward yourself for accomplishing your goals. Be flexible, things don’t always go as planned. Build flex time into your day so you can respond to emergencies when they occur. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others.

9.    Eat healthy meals each day. The correct food will keep your energy level up. Avoid sugar loaded snack foods and beverages. Limit your caffeine intake each day and stay away from energy drinks, which are loaded with sugar and caffeine. Eat healthy snacks like yogurt, fruits, and vegetables, and heart healthy nuts like almonds or peanuts.

10. Take your vacations, set aside time to do things you enjoy like fishing, reading, gardening, biking, walking or just playing with your children. Committing to lead a balanced life will reduce your level of stress.

Available online, there are two self-assessments that will evaluate your level of stress and test your knowledge on stress and its affects. The first site is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, and the second site is sponsored by the APA (American Psychological Association)

If you find that you stress level is not reduced with the application of these strategies, you may wish to contact your personal physician and see if medical intervention is required. Your physician can advise you on proper nutrition and exercise regimes. Working with a certified trainer will also provide you with guidance on developing a customized exercise program that can help you reduce the stress that you experience in your life.

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