8 Ways to Reduce Stress at Work

Last updated: Jul 18, 2023

Feeling stressed, down, or anxious? You’re in good company.

  • Mental health “dramatically declined” in 2020, according to a Lancet study cited in CNBC, “with an estimated 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorders and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders seen globally.”
  • Nearly 2 out of 5 surveyed adults said their mental health was only “fair or poor” in December 2022.
  • 90% of surveyed US adults believe the country is “experiencing a mental health crisis” as of October 2022.

There is plenty to be stressed about. In the workplace, many employees are returning to the office, where expectations aren’t always clear. Layoffs have left some workers scrambling for jobs, and others are overburdened by new responsibilities. Outside of work, Americans are navigating ongoing public health crises, systemic inequalities, restrictions to civil liberties and political unrest. Plus, 70 percent of Americans are financially stressed, with the majority living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s not to mention personal stress.


“I think the stress has definitely always been there, there is just much more gravity to it now,” says Joshua Kwasnicki, the director of organizational development for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “People are on edge. What’s happening at work, they’re carrying with them to their house, and what’s happening at home, they’re carrying with them to work.”


All this to say: Your feelings are valid, and it’s understandable if emotional distress has been interfering with your ability to concentrate at your job. That’s why we reached out to the Crisis Center, as well as the USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, for these eight ways to reduce stress at work.


8. Acknowledge That It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress at work, give yourself permission to be a human being – not simply a worker or employee. “You have to take care of yourself first,” says Julie Serovich, the dean of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida. “It’s really hard to be productive in the workplace when you’ve got a lot of things going on, and so making sure that you put yourself as a priority is very important.”


Kwasnicki has a similar message: “It’s okay to not be okay,” he says. “At work, we pressure ourselves to succeed because that’s been the backbone of everything we’ve been taught: ‘you’ve just got to do it.’ But… people are going to struggle. Instead of thinking to [yourself], what’s wrong with me? They did it, why can’t I just do it? It’s okay to say, you know what, I need help with this. There’s no shame in that.”


A healthy workplace is inclusive, compassionate, and supportive — encouraging employees to take care of their mental and emotional health. (And if your workplace doesn’t allow you to ask for help or have an honest conversation about your needs, you might consider looking for a job elsewhere.)


7. Find Ways to Recharge

You’ve probably heard the term “work/life balance” a lot. But if you feel like this balancing act requires a Cirque du Soleil-level of acrobatics, you’re not alone. “We live in very different times from when that term was coined,” Kwasnicki says. Just think about how easy it is to check your email from home!


What should we do instead? Aim for a “work/life blend,” Kwasnicki suggests. “I never truly get away from work, and also, I’m not a robot — things happen in my life that I’m going to take into work with me. It’s okay to not be okay. So how do I blend the work and life in a way that makes sense to me?”


He encourages workers to reflect: “what is draining my energy at work? What can I do to re-energize?”

You might try something from this pleasant events list, adapted from the DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets book by Marsha M. Linehan:

  • Spend time outside — whether that’s five minutes on your lunch break or a nature walk after work.
  • Listen to music.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Meditate or do yoga.
  • Write down affirmations about your good qualities.
  • Take a bath.
  • Advocate for a cause.
  • Watch a funny YouTube video.
  • Tinker with your car.
  • Plan a beach day.
  • Hang out or call a loved one.
  • Make a smoothie and drink it slowly.
  • Join a sports team.
  • Light a candle.
  • Lift weights.
  • Watch a favorite TV show or read a book.
  • Remind yourself, “I have done a full day’s work.”

Looking for an excuse to pamper yourself this month? You can also try our 30-day Wellness Challenge, chock-full of activities designed to help you re-charge.


6. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation — which has been practiced for thousands of years — has been shown to reduce anxiety and worry, increase alertness and productivity, decrease self-criticism and improve your sense of identity, according to The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne. The great thing about meditation is that it’s short enough to integrate into your workday — as Serovich points out, many exercises are only a couple of minutes long. Carve some time out of your lunch break or swivel your chair and close your eyes after a particularly draining meeting.


To get started, Serovich recommends the free meditation app Insight Timer. Other popular, paid apps include Calm and Headspace.

Pro tip: Practice meditation a few times before you try it at work.

A male drinking a hot drink while working from home.

5. Always Check the Facts

These days, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the state of the world. “You have news coming at you 24/7,” says Serovich. And let’s be honest — much of it isn’t good. How do you cope?

  • Unplug when you can, and avoid doom scrolling — especially before bed.
  • Take constructive action to address issues you care about. “Trust that other people will contribute as well and work towards a solution for that particular problem,” Serovich says.
  • Fact check information: A lot of the information we ingest, particularly through social media, is inaccurate, which “sparks anxiety,” explains Serovich. So before you react to anything, check it against other reliable sources.

4. Talk to a Friend

“Oftentimes, people find great benefit just talking to a friend,” Serovich says. But how do you know whether you can trust that friend with your experience? By “slowly testing it out,” she explains. Try saying something simple, like “Sometimes I feel anxious at work. Do you ever feel that way?” See how they respond — if they share some vulnerability with you themselves or react in an affirming, supportive way, then you can “slowly open the door [with a] back and forth type of dialogue to see how far the person may be willing to talk.”


Reach out to help people that you see struggling, too. If you notice a coworker is having a hard time, you can ask something like, “You don’t seem yourself. Are you okay?” Not only does this compassion help the other person — “it helps us, too,” Serovich says.


Don’t be afraid of an uncomfortable conversation. For example, you may end up needing to ask your friend, “Do you have thoughts of suicide?” If the answer is yes, you can encourage them to call the Crisis Center’s 211 hotline. Or you can call the hotline in advance and ask advice for how to communicate to your friend or co-worker who is struggling.


“Even though we may feel uncomfortable, and even though we may get it just a little wrong, it’s okay,” Kwasnicki says. “The fact that somebody is there with us, sitting with us, talking with us about our issues, coming from a place of genuine care and compassion — that’s all that’s needed. Everything else will fall into place.”


Remember that it’s not your job to fix someone else’s problems, however. Your goal is to simply show compassion and perhaps connect your friend with some of the resources from this blog post.


3. Take Advantage of Your Company’s EAP Program

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is often part of a full benefits package. It gives you free, confidential access to licensed, professional counselors who can help you with whatever you’re struggling with — including financial stress, mental health issues, relationship struggles, health management, and work conflicts.      


You might feel worried that your company will have access to your conversation with the EAP counselor — but don’t be. Whether the program is internal to the company or external, an EAP must abide by HIPAA regulations. They can’t even tell your employer that you’ve reached out to them. The EAP might ask for some general, anonymous data, but this is to help identify if there’s a unit in the company that’s struggling or to report how many people the program helped that month. If you have any concerns, “you can ask for what your rights are in terms of answering questions,” says Serovich.

Two female professionals having a conversation.

2. Talk to a Therapist

If your company doesn’t offer an EAP program, or if you want a service that goes beyond what the EAP provides, consider making an appointment with a mental health counselor.

“Therapy is a good thing,” says Serovich. She recommends it for everyone — even if you are not struggling with a serious problem, you can “find benefit from a few sessions in therapy.”

How do you find a therapist?

1. Call a Hotline

You might think that a crisis hotline isn’t meant for you — maybe you really aren’t in crisis enough to use it. What counts as a crisis, after all? Will you be taking up space meant for someone else if you call?


Kwasnicki encourages you to call: “There is no space that you’re filling up. There’s dozens and dozens of intervention specialists. That’s what they’re there for. That’s why we exist, so no one has to face crises alone. If you feel that you’re alone, that’s enough to call. If you feel that you do not have the resources, inner or outer resources, for you to navigate whatever crisis you’re facing, that’s what we’re here for.”

Here are some benefits of calling a crisis hotline:

  • The crisis hotline acts not only as suicide prevention, but also “as a resource connection,” says Kwasnicki. The person answering your call is a trained, intervention specialist who can connect you to what you need — with or without insurance — from therapy to social services to help with food or clothing.
  • You can call 211 anytime — someone is waiting to talk to you 24/7.
  • It’s completely free, and “you can call as many times as you want,” says Kwasnicki.
  • It’s confidential.
  • You can also call the national 988 hotline, which will connect you to your local 211 crisis center.

If you found these tips useful, you’ll love USF’s free course addressing mental health in the workplace. USF has partnered with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay to offer a seven session class that you can complete at your own pace. If you’d like a digital badge and certificate from the USF Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education, you can choose to pay a $179 fee.


Register Now