How can I reduce stress at work?

Updated: September 23, 2014 - 4:42 pm

Editor’s note: This is Dr. Rachel Allyn’s debut column for the Journals. She will be answering questions about health and wellness. Direct questions to her at

Q: How can I find ways to reduce stress while I’m at work? 

A: The answer to this question has two layers. The first layer involves using your body as a resource. I’m always surprised by how many clients don’t realize (or simply forget) they can calm themselves on the spot by utilizing their breath. After all it’s free, you don’t need a prescription and it’s effective. How we breath has an immediate impact on our nervous system. Whether we’re breathing effectively is the difference between having a nervous system and having a chronically nervous system. It doesn’t take more than checking-in to see if you’re actually breathing fully and then letting out long exhalations to train your body to release tension. With practice, the physical benefit will be long lasting and your mind will follow suit. 

In addition to breathing, use the senses to soothe yourself. Our senses are constantly absorbing the outer environment and providing information to our brain about whether we’re safe or not. Having silence or mellow music in the background compared to loud sounds can be the difference between responding versus reacting in a tense moment. Have some calming Essential Oils at your desk such as lavender and dab it behind your ears. This break can also be a mental reminder to reset and shift perspective: you’re just under a work deadline, not being chased by a bear.

The second layer is less immediate but also requires the act of letting go, as well as some honest self-reflection. It’s about recognizing beliefs you hold about yourself in relation to work. Are you a people-pleaser? Do you overly-identify with your job? Are you a workaholic to distract from other aspects of your life you don’t want to face? Do you micro-manage and take on too much because you need control? Often these beliefs are part of old stories that may have made sense and worked for you in the past but are creating difficulties in the present.

For example, if you’re a people pleaser the first step is recognizing it’s impossible to avoid disappointing another person at some point and this is simply part of being human. Plus, you’ll no doubt deplete yourself by trying to be everything to everyone. Set an intention to say “no” to a small request in your day and see what happens. You’ll likely find out that things don’t fall apart, people respect you for having boundaries and you’re more refreshed for other priorities in your life.

Focus on 10 long exhalations three times as day as a physiological and symbolic way to release stress held in your body.

Explore the limiting beliefs you have about yourself and the ways they’re interfering with how you want to give your time and energy.

Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at Send questions to