Five simple techniques to reduce workplace stress and avoid “mental health days.”
  by Dr. Julia M. Rahn

    Decreased productivity, poor co-worker relations and increased absenteeism due to needing a “mental health day” or to take care of a physical illness are just a few of the consequences of unmanaged stress. All of these negative outcomes originate from individuals who don’t take care of themselves when stress levels begin to increase but wait until their stress is at “Level Red” to do something about it. Imagine the positive outcomes if everyone knew their individual stress signs (yellow flags) and did just one or two small behaviors to counteract crashing into Level Red. Before you attempt to manage stress, you must become aware of the “yellow flags” that indicate a “danger zone” ahead. Here are some known and little-known yellow flags that indicate a crash is impending:

  • Early morning (3 a.m. or 4 a.m.) awakening

  • Eating that “Oh, I shouldn’t” piece of candy found in your co-worker’s candy dish

  • Feeling on edge most of the day

  • Feeling like you are walking through molasses on your way to work

  • Hitting the snooze button 10 to 15 times each morning

  • Procrastinating on important projects

  • Drinking that “Oh, I shouldn’t” extra glass of wine at night


    Once these signs are acknowledged, there are many proven techniques that give you a better chance at managing your stress and feeling healthy, productive and empowered. Here are five that you can do, starting today, often with immediate stress-reducing results.

1 Remember to breathe. Breathe by directing air into your diaphragm and extending your belly, then hold it a second or two, and slowly let all the air out your mouth or nose. Repeat three to five times. Breathing in this way will help slow down your thoughts, clear your mind and get more oxygen into your system to help you work more effectively.

2 Say a simple mantra to yourself. No, you don’t have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) if you repeat over and over, “Yes, I can,” “I can stay calm” or “Stress is manageable.” You also can pick words that are meaningful just to you. This strategy really works to start changing negative self-talk into productive self-talk.

3 Take a walk around the block. It will help your mind switch from focusing on a problem to figuring out a solution. To stay in solution-focused mode, it is believed that exercising at least 20 minutes a day will keep those neurons firing productively.

4 Complete a mini Progressive Muscle Relaxation protocol at your desk. Pick various muscle tensing activities, such as pointing your toes toward your head, clenching your fists and raising your shoulders to your ears. Separately, tighten each muscle group for 30 seconds and then release, feeling the difference between tensing and relaxing. Once you stop tensing, your body will want to relax and will promote overall body and mind relaxation.

5 Draw circles. Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated while sitting in a meeting? If you are not in the mood to think positively, can’t leave for a walk and have already tried the breathing, one last resort is to take your pen to paper and draw circles. The process of actively doing something in your control plus the symbolic representation of the circle (i.e., wholeness and completeness) should be enough to get you through to the end of the meeting. Of course, after the meeting, you should take a walk, remembering to breathe deeply in order to process out the built-up stress from the meeting.

    As you can see, stress management can be simple. Now that you know these five helpful stress management techniques, you have a choice to stay healthy and happy in the fast lane or crash and burn from stress. It is your choice. Please choose wisely.

    Dr. Julia M. Rahn is a clinical psychologist and founder of Flourish Studios™, a multifaceted learning center based in Chicago. In addition to running Flourish Studios™ and working individually as a therapist with her clients, she is a speaker and consultant. To find out more about Dr. Rahn and Flourish Studios™, visit, or call (773) 281-8130.


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