Hey all, Will here. I’m going to try something new and host a couple of guest posts on a topic that is often overlooked on software development teams: workplace health and wellness. The amazing Cayleigh Stickler graciously wrote these last Fall, and I’ll be sharing them with you here during the deep winter of February.
I cheated and have been following some of this advice since I got the articles. Now you can too. Enjoy!
Stress and work may feel like they go hand-in-hand. After all, there are project deadlines, pressures to come up with creative ideas, and collaborating with coworkers—not to mention handling customer service issues and complaints. It can feel overwhelming, but before you rethink your career choice, consider how improving your mental health will also improve your work life.
Strategy 1: Recognize the Risk Factors of Workplace Stress
It’s easy to confuse workplace pressure with workplace stress. Pressure is normal in any job. It’s what drives us to meet deadlines and perform well.
Workplace stress, on the other hand, can be debilitating and affect our physical health if left unchecked for too long.
The World Health Organization (WHO) outlined several risks factors for occupational stress, such as:
- Low levels of reward for jobs
- Unclear direction/instructions for projects
- Little support from managers and colleagues
- Lack of control in projects
- Performing tasks that aren’t matched with skills
The key in this is communication with your superiors and colleagues. It can take practice asking for what you need, so start small. Take one thing that’s stressing you out and start there. Once you become comfortable stating your needs, you can speak up more often before it becomes a problem.
Strategy 2: Go the D
Remember when the mantra was to get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day to stay healthy? That’s now being shown it isn’t the whole story. Those of us who have sedentary jobs are still at an increased risk of premature death and other health complications like heart disease—even if we exercise regularly.
Instead of throwing in the towel and skipping the gym altogether, find ways throughout the work day to stand up and move around. Setting small breaks throughout the day, in combination with regular physical exercise, can be enough to counteract the fact we need to sit down for long periods of time.
Every hour, you should get up at least once for five minutes. This will not only help your physical health, but it’ll help you refocus and give your brain a break for a few minutes so you can come back to your task with a fresh mind.
Here are some ways you can get up to move around:
- Send your print jobs to a printer further from your desk
- Take a water or coffee break—and stand while you’re drinking
- Talk to a colleague face-to-face instead of sending an email
- Take a lap around the office
Some of these techniques work in multiple ways. If you walk to talk to a colleague in person, you’re not only forced to get up, but you’re strengthening an interpersonal connection.
Strategy 3: Start Small and Build Up
Wellness is a choice, but it also comes from the types of habits we choose. Habits are ingrained in us, so you might not know what types of work habits you have until you sit down and take an inventory.
For the next week, keep a notepad and pen next to you and jot down what you do throughout the day and when you do it. After the week is finished, evaluate and find any common patterns. Find the stuff you want to change (like checking your email a hundred times in an eight-hour work day), but also find the stuff you want to keep doing.
Here are more ways starting small habits to make large changes can work for you:
- Create a routine and choose which habits would be best for the morning, afternoon, and before you leave for the day
- Choose tiny habits that challenge you and make you happy
- Be intentional about your new habits by habit stacking—linking your new habit to an existing habit, such as drinking your morning coffee
When you feel more in control of your day and the flow of your work zone, you’ll feel more empowered and confident.
Strategy 4: Take an Inventory of Your Sensory I
Sometimes there really is just too much on our plates, and we have to power through. If you can’t manage a five-minute break to release some stress, here’s a thirty-second technique that helps bring you back to the present and out of your spinning mind.
It’s called grounding. Simply take a deep breath and inventory of all the sensory input you’re currently receiving, then work on decreasing the stress in your body. The stress in your mind will follow, and you’ll have a clearer focus on your task.
- Touch: How does your back feel against your chair? Your fingers on the keys? Your feet on the floor?
- Sound: What noises do you hear? Click-clacking of keys? Laughter from the break room? Whispers in a neighboring cubicle? Your racing heartbeat?
- Sight: What do you see? Your computer? Cluttered notes on your desk? Motivational Post-It note or poster on your wall?
- Smell: What do you smell? Burning popcorn? Coffee? Someone’s tuna sandwich from lunch?
- Taste: What do you taste? Mint from a stick of gum? Lingering aftertaste of coffee? Do you have dry mouth and need a drink of water?
The goal is to jump off the hamster wheel in our mind and come to the present moment. Mindfulness practices like this one are good anytime, but they’re especially effective when you’re stressed. If you make mindfulness one of your new habits, you’ll be able to reach for this tool when you need it the most.
Working on mental health shouldn’t be something you do when you’re already at the edge. It’s something that can and should be worked on every day. At work, we might not have time to do an hour-long yoga routine, but there are strategies we can take advantage of to help keep us clear-headed, motivated, and confident in ourselves and our work.
What are some strategies you use to increase your mental wellness throughout the day?
Cayleigh Stickler is a single mom of two toddlers who wears many hats as a content marketer, fiction editor, and mountain adventurer. She loves using her psychology degree and passion for holistic wellness to inspire and help people define what healthy means to them. When she isn’t wrangling her two toddlers, she is available for writing services.