10 Frugal Ways to Reduce Workplace Stress

Work stress often seems like a normal part of adulthood. Deadlines, demanding bosses, irritating coworkers, and of course, the dreaded TPS reports can all work together to make your blood pressure spike and your temper rise, even if you love your job.

You might think that lowering your stress level at work requires either drastic action, like quitting your job, or an expensive habit, like booking a daily massage. But there are lots of little ways to improve your stress level at work, often without having to spend a dime. And not only will these stress reduction techniques help you to feel calmer and more contented at work, but they will also help improve your productivity.

In no time, you'll be back to writing your TPS reports with a whistle on your lips and a song in your heart. (Unfortunately, this might not help your cubicle-mate's stress level.) The next time you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed at the office, try one of these stress reduction techniques.

1. Create an Interruption List

One of the things that makes work feel overwhelming is when you have a sense that you have worked all day without making any progress. This stress-inducing problem comes from the fact that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after an interruption. This means you can get to the end of your workday exhausted and with very little to show for it.

Though modern technology exacerbates the problem of interruptions, it is relatively simple to turn off the notifications on your email, phone, and instant messaging systems. The more difficult type of interruption to deal with comes from your co-workers who stop by your desk.

This is why Stever Robbins, author of The Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, suggests that you institute an interruption list. This is a simple sheet of paper where you jot down the details of the issue your co-worker is bringing to you. You then set aside a half hour to an hour later in the day to deal with the items on your interruption list. Rather than splitting your focus, you give your current project 100% of your attention, and you can later give your co-worker's issue 100%, too. That's a win-win.

2. Sit Up Straight or Strike a Pose

As a lifelong sloucher, I can tell you that hunching over my keyboard and folding my legs into origami on my desk chair feels pretty comfortable. But the way I sit at work can add to my stress.

That's because, according to Andy Yap, a post-doctoral associate and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "Your posture influences psychology and that influences behavior." Sitting in a tight, constricted position makes you feel stressed.

This is partially because such positions do not look powerful or confident. Yap's colleague, Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy has found that adopting confident postures — like Superman's wide-legged, hands-on-hips stance — has an effect on emotion, behavior, and hormone levels. Cuddy calls these postures "power poses," and they include almost any pose that is space-occupying, open, and expansive.

Even if you have to "fake" the confidence or serenity, sitting tall with a straight spine, or adopting the man of steel's favorite pose (while imagining your cape billowing in the wind) for as little as two minutes, can improve your confidence and stress level.

3. Make Every Day Thanksgiving With a Gratitude List

It can be very easy to get sucked down into the misery of day-to-day stress, particularly if your workplace has a high-pressure culture or you have been facing unrelenting back-to-back deadlines.

An excellent antidote to these kinds of stresses is taking a moment to feel gratitude for the things that are going well in your life. Practicing gratitude has mental health benefits, because it has "tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress," according to University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons.

An easy and quick way to do this is to write down a list of things you are grateful for, and post it somewhere you can easily see it. Then, when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, you can look up and remember how supportive your significant other is and how much you love seeing your dog's wagging tail at the end of each day.

You can also make gratitude a habit by jotting a new item down each day.

4. Talk to Yourself… By Name

Talking to yourself does not mean becoming that person at your job who is always mumbling about his red Swingline stapler or the insufficient cake-to-person ratio at the office birthday party. In fact, you already engage in self-talk, where you might say, "I got this!" right before an important presentation, or "I'm an idiot!" after blowing the presentation.

According to psychologist Ethan Kross, however, referring to yourself in the first person (i.e., I or me) is causing you more stress and sapping your confidence. If you instead start using your name and you when you talk to yourself, you create enough psychological distance to enable self-control and minimize rumination, which Kross describes to as "a handmaiden of anxiety and depression after we complete a task."

Kross explains that "when dealing with strong emotions, taking a step back and becoming a detached observer can help. It's very easy for people to advise their friends, yet when it comes to themselves, they have trouble. But people engaging in this process, using their own first name, are distancing themselves from the self, right in the moment."

So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and say, "You can do this," in the same way you'd tell your best friend.

5. Turn on Some Tunes

Researchers are just now starting to understand the seemingly-magical properties of music, which we have long known to be able to soothe the savage beast. According to recent studies, not only does listening to music regulate several cardiac and neurological functions, but it can also produce measurable biochemical stress-reducing effects.

Having your favorite songs playing in the background while you work can be one of the most effective methods for reducing your stress level on a regular basis.

6. Make Yourself a Nice Cup of Tea

At the risk of sounding like an overbearing mother in a 19th Century British novel, a cup of tea really can cure all that ails you. Not only have studies found that drinking black tea improves your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and that green tea works as an antidepressant, but the act of making tea for yourself can help you to feel "cared for." (Think of Sheldon Cooper's insistence on making a hot drink for someone in distress.)

In addition, holding onto a warm cup can help you feel "warmer" (as in friendlier) toward your coworkers and place of work. Our brains form judgments about others in the same spot where we process warmth of temperature, so just the fact that you are holding a hot beverage can help to make the world look a little warmer to you.

If you're all for the break and the warmth, but prefer a cup of joe over tea, remember that the caffeine in coffee can make your heart race, which is hardly helpful if you're already stressed. In addition, tea is also incredibly hydrating. This is important because stress can cause dehydration, since your adrenal glands are pumping out stress hormones — including a hormone called aldosterone, which helps regulate the body's fluids and electrolytes. If you're stressing at work, the cup of tea can help keep your hydration in check.

7. Declutter Your Desk

Trying to get something done in a cluttered work environment is not just frustrating when you can't find the latest memo from your boss that you know is around here somewhere. Working among clutter can also raise your stress levels, making it harder to focus on your job.

A UCLA study of 32 families from Los Angeles found that stress hormones spiked while the mothers spent time dealing with their belongings. (This effect was true of every single mother, but not necessarily every father studied). The researchers theorize that physical clutter overloads your senses because it is competing for your attention, which means your performance will be decreased, your stress levels will increase, and your ability to think creatively can be impaired. (See also: 8 Ways Clutter Keeps You Poor)

Clutter isn't the same for everyone, however, so if you're perfectly comfortable with a fine layer of expense reports and Cheeto dust on your desk, don't worry about living up to someone else's expectation of "decluttered."

If you think better with a clear and ordered space, however, then take a few minutes to clear off your desk and set things in order when you're feeling stressed. Not only will you get a small boost for having accomplished a task, but you'll be in a better place to focus and think creatively about your work.

8. Do Some Coloring

It may feel a little juvenile, but breaking out your crayons, colored pencils, or markers to color in a lovely picture has great stress-reducing benefits for even the most mature of adults. Research has shown that coloring offers the artist a sense of well-being and quietness, while also stimulating the parts of the brain associated with motor skills, the senses, and creativity. And since coloring is a focused, creative, and bounded (that is, it doesn't require you to reinvent any wheels) activity, it can be both soothing and calming for a work-stressed individual.

Publishers have gotten in on the message that coloring isn't just for kids anymore. You can find coloring books for adults filled with images like mandalas and stained glass windows — and nary a cartoon character to be found.

9. Watch an Adorable Cat Video

You might remember the recent research out of Japan concluding that viewing images of cute baby animals increases productivity. But productivity is not the only benefit from such an adorable break from work. Aww-ing over kittens and puppies will also help lower your stress levels.

According to research by Jessica Gall Myrick of Indiana University Media School, negative emotions are lowered and positive emotions are increased after viewing Internet cat videos. This is true even if you are watching cat-on-a-roomba videos because you are procrastinating. According to Myrick, "even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube… while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterwards."

10. Take a Brisk Walk

The connection between exercise and stress relief is well studied. Not only does exercise boost your production of endorphins, which are your brain's feel-good hormones, but the physical activity is a way of realigning your focus away from whatever is stressing you, similar to how meditation works.

What's even better is that you can get these benefits from exercise with nothing more than a brisk 10 to 15 minute walk. No Crossfit, three-mile hike, or pickup game of basketball required.

If you can recruit a walking buddy to chat with while you exercise, you'll also reap the benefits of socializing along with the endorphins, and you'll also be more likely to start a long-term stress reduction habit.

What are other cheap or free ways you de-stress at work?

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Ms. Frugal Rock

Love this post. Working in a high stress environment can really lead to excessive spending later. I find myself some days wanting to go home and do expensive retail therapy to relax! I will have to try the interruption list this week and see how that goes.

I personally love even a 5 minute meditation break. Even if I don't have time to take a full lunch break- 5 minutes can really help re-center.