For many of us, stress has become the soundtrack to our daily work lives. Some of us try to push through it via hyper-productive work sprints that inevitably turn into marathons (did you forget to eat again?). Others work for the weekend, dreaming about the time we can finally zone-out in front of the tv to get some relief.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. This constant low- (or high-) level stress at work is at an all-time high. It’s pushing many of us past our limits, causing us to ignore our needs and boundaries, and bleeding into our personal lives.

According to Calm users, their biggest problem at work isn’t burnout or work life balance (although those are up there). The greatest issue they face is managing stress and anxiety.

Work is stressful. We can’t escape it. But we can learn to manage it better.

If work stress is costing your health, the price is too high

Why are we so passionate about facing work stress head on? Because it makes you sick. Job stress is attributed to 45% of cases of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers. But it’s not just mental health.

Stress from work shows up in the body as well. For some, it manifests as muscle tension, headaches, or stomach aches. While others want to sleep all the time, or can’t sleep at all.

Chronic stress creates an illness state in the body by increasing the production of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These overactive hormones increase the risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep issues, and all the other unpleasant physical symptoms most of us are all too familiar with. Ultimately, emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States. And this is a preventable risk factor. So, we need to prevent it.

Beyond the physical, stress bleeds into our personal lives. It has a cascading effect on those closest to us, which means our spouses, children, friends, and coworkers are impacted by our stress. You may think you’re hiding it well but, without proper support, you may be bringing you work stress home.

What are we all (work) stressing about?

The causes of our stress at work come down to a combination of internal and external factors. Internally, we face a lot of self-created pressure like perfectionism and holding ourselves to an unrealistic set of standards. Externally, we encounter factors like the nature of our work being incredibly stressful, needing to meet client demands and deadlines, or working onsite like those in education, healthcare or hospitality.

How many of these sound familiar to you?

External Work Stressors:

  • Last-minute deadlines
  • Unexpected projects
  • That colleague
  • Meetings meetings meetings
  • WFH isolation
  • Video call fatigue
  • Being on your feet all day
  • Hustle culture
  • More work than you can possibly handle

Internal Work Stressors:

  • Expecting yourself to do everything (everywhere) all at once
  • Not feeling good enough (aka. imposter syndrome)
  • People-pleasing (“no worries if not”)
  • Taking on too much responsibility
  • Lack of boundaries (“I’m working late again”)
  • No time to relax
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of disappointing colleagues

Related: The Magic of Micro-Breaks: 5 Science-Backed Tips for Stress-Busting Work Breaks

The truth is, many of those external factors are out of our control. There will always be a last minute deadline and that one colleague that you just can’t with. But there are tools to help you cope when it all starts to pile up.

Plus, many of those internal stressors are in your control. And with some dedicated time and effort, you can begin to shift some of the unrealistic (and unhelpful) expectations.

These Are The Two Types Work Stress Solutions

It can be helpful to think about managing your work stress in two forms: Reactive and Proactive.

A reactive stress management plan is for those triggers that pop up during the work day. Think: getting assigned an unexpected project, difficult conversations with a coworker, or lack of resources to meet that upcoming deadline. In these moments, you need something to reach for to calm the stress response, allowing you to respond to the task at hand.

A proactive stress management plan happens outside of work. It’s about dealing with lingering stress from the work day and those internal factors of stress that are in your control. This helps you be more fully present in your free time and allows you to get the rest and recharge that you need to head back into work and do it all over again.

1 | Reactive Stress Solutions: What To Do When You Face Stress At Work

Having a clear plan for dealing with stress during the workday will help you face and release the stress as it comes up. Because it will come up.

Here are some ways to support yourself through some common stressful experiences at work.

Work Stress Situation #1: Nerves before a meeting or presentation

It’s normal to get stressed before a big meeting or presentation. That stress is actually there to help you perform at your best, but without support it can inhibit your ability to show up clearly.

Relaxation helps to counter the physiological effects of stress, so focus on relaxing the muscles in your body when you feel stress come. It can help to use a quick guided practice to Relieve Tension or Relax with the Breath. Once you’re relaxed, let yourself Find Focus and Zone In, allowing you to enter your meeting with clarity and ease.

If your team is open to it, you could also try the Pre-Meeting Meditation as a group before you dive in.

🔹 If you have a bit more time, find a quiet space to try out the Calm and Clear practice or Showing Up and Meeting Well to help boost your confidence before heading into your meeting

Work Stress Situation #2: Beating yourself up over a mistake or missed deadline

Being a high achiever can help you excel at work, but when it veers into perfectionist territory, that’s where we get into trouble. You can’t do everything perfectly, especially if you’re in a busy, fast-paced environment.

Start to push back against perfectionism by striving to do your best (which is all you can do), but expecting that you will make mistakes. Just like everyone else on your team. Balancing your expectations may help you extend yourself more compassion when the inevitable happens. Taking time to celebrate your hard work and success can also help you stay more balanced when things don’t go according to plan.

But we get it. Sometimes you just can’t let it go. Chronic stress at work can lead us to automatically see the worst in any given situation. Maybe you think you’re going to get fired, that no one likes you, or that you can’t even handle this job. But when it comes to managing stress, it’s important not to automatically believe everything you think.

Detach from your thoughts as much as possible, using short practices like Reframe Difficult Thoughts or Overcoming Negative Thinking to help.

🔹 Try Jay Shetty’s ‘For Work’ session on Perfectionism. Or yourself some extra support When Things Go Wrong

Work Stress Situation #3: Challenging coworker(s)

Interpersonal conflict at work is bound to happen. You spend so much time with the same people everyday, not to mention working in potentially high-stress environments, so some amount of discord is normal.

You can lessen the potential for conflict by refraining from gossip, harsh criticism, or insensitive comments (aka just be kind), but when conflict does arise, do your best to handle it appropriately.

Taking a step back when emotions are running high (and you might say something you regret) is always a good tactic. Give yourself a 60-Second Reboot to get a fresh start. You may want to Step Away From Your Computer to get some fresh air and a better perspective on the situation.

From this place, consider what you need and how you want to respond. Maybe you need to set some boundaries with a coworker. Maybe you need to share your perspective or even apologize. Whatever the situation requires, do your best to articulate it with kindness and clarity.

🔹 Try Jay Shetty’s Frustration with Colleagues to navigate challenging workplace relationships

Work Stress Situation #4: Too much on your plate

When the work is piling up and you don’t have the time or resources to get it done, stress is inevitable. Similarly, when the requirements or limits of your job are unclear and you don’t know exactly what is expected of you, stress is bound to happen. In both cases, it’s important to talk to your supervisor.

Take some time to analyze any areas that you need clarity or support with and set up a time to communicate them with your boss. Rather than complaining about what’s not working, share a plan or ask to brainstorm some effective solutions. Setting yourself up to do the best work you can will benefit your employer as well, so don’t be shy about having these conversations.

Prepare yourself to Speak Up but also to Listen and create clear boundaries and expectations at work.

Work Stress Situation #5: Unable to “switch off” from work

When the boundaries between our work and personal life are blurry (or non-existent) we rarely get the time to relax and recover from the stress of the day. Plus, we miss that important time to connect with our friends and loved ones. It’s critical to “switch off” from work at the end of each day, allowing yourself the space to enjoy your free time.

Create a clear shut-down routine at work. It could be something physical like closing any open tabs and applications on your computer, turning on an away message for the evening, or even changing your clothes. Support your mind in switching off from work with a Leaving Work or Shut Down Routine meditation.

🔹 Help yourself Let Go of the Day and enjoy your time to relax

Source: Getty Images

2 | Proactive Stress Solutions: Working on Work Stress Away from Work

Using your time wisely to fully disconnect from work will help you get the most out of your free time. Release stress and learn new skills that will serve you during your working hours. Here are some ways to support yourself in your off-duty hours.

  1. Create Pre- and Post-Work Rituals

    There can be a lot going on before and after work, depending on your home and family life. Juggling many responsibilities, you may find yourself scrambling to get out the door in the morning, causing you to arrive at work already in a stressed out state. Similarly, if you’re rushing after work to show up for everything and everyone around you, you may never fully discharge the stress of the day.

Of course, we all have commitments, but setting intentions or rituals for yourself before and after work (no matter how short) can set the foundation for a less stressful day. The best rituals are ones that feel good to you, and that you’ll actually stick to, but here are some ideas to play around with:

  • Meditation is a great way to Start off on the Right Foot , and Get Energized in the AM. It’s also a great way to Let Go of the Day  and eventually Wind Down for sleep.
  • Movement is important for your physical and mental health, and it’s a great stress relief tool. Go for a walk, try out today’s Daily Move session, or incorporate any type of movement or exercise that you like.
  • Music is a simple, but effective, way to start or end your day with less stress. Put on an uplifting playlist while you journal, make breakfast, or commute to work, or choose a relaxing playlist for your post work wind-down.

🔹 If you have some meditation experience, tune in to  The Daily Calm  or  The Daily Trip to start or end your day

2. Let Go of Work Rumination

Even with the best of intentions, it can be hard to fully leave work at work. Those thoughts and worries about that unfinished project or the mistake you made often bleed into your off-duty hours. This is normal, but there are things you can do to address these unwelcome thoughts.

Related: The 5 Signs Of Burnout & Science-Backed Tips for Recovery

Try these guided practices to stop your Ruminating and guide some Scheduled Worry Time in order to get some relief from those negative thoughts.

And if you just can’t stop the rumination, journaling can be effective. Grab a notebook (or computer) and respond to these prompts:

  1. What are all the things I’m worried about with this work sitch? Set a timer for 2 minutes and let it all out.
  2. Which parts of the story I’m spinning are true and which may not be? Be honest… how important is it in the bigger picture?
  3. What’s in and out of my control in this situation? Sometimes stuff just happens.
  4. Given what’s in my control, what’s one action I can take tomorrow to address the worry? Who can help me with it? A solid plan should ease your mind.
  5. What can I learn from this situation and do differently next time? We have to learn somehow.
  6. How can I adjust my goals or expectations of myself to be more realistic? Ex: accept that you’re human, mistakes happen, nothing will ever be perfect.
  7. What did I do right today? We guarantee there is at least one, so let your successes take up space in your brain too.

🔹 Check out Stop the Spiral for some relief on the go

3. Develop Healthy Habits

When we’re stressed, comfort food and couch time usually feel like the answer. And while we believe in balance, we also know that developing healthy habits are a better long term solution to stress. Healthy food, daily movement, and good sleep are stress busters, but they are also stress preventers. Giving your body the fuel it needs to show up each day will allow you to function from a more grounded place.

Beyond the basics, it’s important to have fun. Dedicate time for your hobbies, interesting activities, spending time with friends and family, or whatever brings you pleasure. This time for play and connection are another pillar in your stress management plan.

Lastly, get in the habit of reaching out for support. Share your worries and stressors with trusted family and friends, and ask for help when you need it. If it’s available to you, talk with a counselor about your stress levels to get some additional tools and resources. Check if your employer offers any mental health services, many do.

🔹 Learn more about Taking Time to Play and making these Healthy Habits Stick


We live in a culture that rewards busyness. There’s always so much to do that the idea of resting can feel uncomfortable.

The last important stress management tool is to Break the Habit of Busyness, and learn how to let yourself truly rest. In order to avoid the negative effects of chronic stress, you have to return to your pre-stress level of functioning. While some fun and engaging activities are good as we mentioned above, if you’re constantly engaged, moving from activity to activity, you never really rest. You are just “at work” in a different way.

So, don’t over-schedule your free time. Make sure you’re taking time to unwind, and notice when even this time turns into some form of doing (do you really need to re-organize your closet right now?). Don’t forget to actually utilize your vacation or mental health days and let yourself fully disconnect.

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