Note from the editor: In this latest post in our wellness series, One Legal’s in-house wellness guru, Lili Daniel, suggests seven steps for reducing stress at work. Check out the full series here. Please share your own ways to find stress relief in the comments; we’d love to hear from you! – Richard Heinrich
How are you feeling today?
Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. If not you, then almost certainly one of your colleagues to the left or right.
According to a study by Benjamin Sells, one in four legal professionals struggles with a mental health issue. Moreover, according to Johns Hopkins University, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than the average American to suffer from depression — the highest rate among all professional occupations.
Of course, there are a number of ways to reduce stress, so the list below is by no means exhaustive. But they are methods that have worked for many, and may be effective for you, too.
*Some manifestations of stress, anxiety, or depression, however, require professional help. If the symptoms you experience feel particularly serious, please contact your doctor, your state’s Lawyer Assistance Program, or an organization like the Samaritans.
#1 Connect and communicate
Often, stress is triggered by feelings of isolation. It can seem as though there’s no one to turn to, especially if your colleagues are all working on different cases.
To beat this feeling, try scheduling some time to connect and communicate with your co-workers, or have a brief chat with a friend. Just a few minutes of conversation away from your desk can make a big difference.
#2 Drink less caffeine
A huge workload can mean needing to stay in the office for long hours, and result in reaching for highly caffeinated beverages, like coffee or energy drinks.
Unfortunately, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that heavily caffeinated drinks can exacerbate stress by increasing blood pressure and elevating the production of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol.
To kick the high-caffeine habit, try decaffeinated coffee or low-caffeine alternatives like green tea, or even hot water with a bit of lemon.
#3 Snack right
When stress is high, we often eat whatever’s convenient or easy, like pizza in the kitchen or candy in the vending machine. But alas, junk food can agitate stress, and cause even more damage to our wellness.
Indeed, according to The Stress Management Society, eating well can have both a psychological and physiological effect on our stress levels. Eating better means replacing sugary snacks, which contribute to uneven energy levels, with more balanced alternatives.
One way to do this is by prepping healthy snacks after grocery shopping. For example, filling snack bags with fruit and nuts, or hummus and veggies, then bringing these alternatives to the office can help you resist temptation when colleagues bring cookies in!
#4 Listen to your favorite music
When people feel stressed, many avoid music, perhaps because it can seem like a waste of time when there’s so much work to get done.
But a study for the National Institutes of Health recently found that listening to any music, but especially classical, directly impacts our bodies’ psychobiological stress system. So, why not try listening to some music as you commute, taking a break with your headphones in, or even listening to music at your desk, if you can?
And, even better, as we’ve written, listening to music can boost your productivity, too!
#5 Sleep better
The relationship between stress and sleep is a difficult one: the more stressed we are, the more we need a good night’s rest, but the stress itself makes sleeping difficult.
Experts recommend that, in order to feel our best, we should log between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. But a recent survey found that 43 percent of adults reported that stress has caused them to lie awake at night, resulting in less sleep.
For better sleep, try decompressing for an hour before bedtime. Turn off electronic devices (the blue light they give off wreaks havoc with our bodies’ natural sleep regulator, the hormone melatonin), turn the lights down, and read or meditate.
You couldn’t possibly reduce stress just by breathing, could you? Yes, you could! The American Institute of Stress recommends breathing as one of the simplest and most effective stress busters:
“Abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.”
If you’re short on time, even a few minutes of slow, deep breathing — in through the nose, holding it for four seconds, then exhaling through the nose — can have a significant calming effect.
#7 Stay active
The physical benefits of exercise are well-known — in fact, the Center for Disease Control considers it “one of the most important things you can do for your health.” Moreover, it can have significant mental health benefits, too.
In fact, even short, low-intensity exercises will release endorphins, which result in feeling happier, calmer, and more alert. Try a short walk around your office building, or, if you only have a few minutes at your desk, try these recommended quick yoga moves that you can do right where you are?
What are your go-to ways to find stress relief? Everyone is a little different, so go with whatever works best for you to relax and let go.
Want more practical advice on staying happy and healthy at work? Download our free wellness guide for legal professionals: