Ashley Spreda, LICSW, CDP

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Fight Workday and Commuter Stress

By Ashley Spreda, LICSW, CDP, published online by 425 Business on April 26, 2016 and in 425 Magazine on May 5, 2016.

Everyone experiences stress to some degree in their everyday lives, whether at work, or commuting in terrible Puget Sound traffic. Life can be like a roller coaster ride with lots of dips, hills and unexpected turns. While stress is inevitable, the question is how do you manage it?

At work, it’s easy to get caught up in office chaos and pressure. Often when you’re stressed, your mind can go blank, and you can have difficulty remembering things, concentrating and making decisions. All of these reactions can compound an already stressful day. There are many different ways to cope with stress and take care of yourself, but it can be hard to find time in a busy day—especially after a dreaded commute home—for things that are relaxing and give you a sense of peace. Here are a few tips to ease the roller coaster ride of your day-to-day work life.

Take a few minutes every hour for a brief break, maybe just to take a couple deep breaths or to walk around the office or up and down the stairs. Use your lunch break to get outside for some fresh air. You could even do some stretching at your desk or listen to a favorite song.

Also try and spend some time each day to ground yourself in the moment. Utilizing your senses to draw you into the present can help you destress. For instance, put on your favorite lotion and feel the texture of it on your hands, or step outside and focus on ambient noises or smell the breeze. Even popping a mint into your mouth and calling on your senses of taste and smell to zero in on the flavors and texture—all of these give you a moment to collect yourself, in the present moment, versus thinking about that meeting that begins in ten minutes.

Establish a Routine

Creating routines in life is helpful to alleviating everyday stress. For instance, commuting home when it’s raining or when traffic is horrendous can be just as stressful as the rest of the day. That’s why no matter how busy you are, it’s important to take the time to build in a self-care routine, as well as activities that you enjoy. Everyone’s self-care routine will be unique, but here are a few things to try:

• One thing you can do for self-care during the commute is to treat the time as an opportunity to reflect on your day. But make a deal with yourself that you will leave it in the car when you get home.

• You can focus on something to take your mind off your workday stress such as listening to your favorite music or pod cast. Perhaps you could use the opportunity to have quiet and focus on the sounds of the vehicle on the pavement. If you ride mass transit, you might use the time to listen to a guided meditation app on your phone.

• If you’re feeling tense, take the opportunity to do some shoulder rolls to loosen them up and focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths to calm down your body.

Ruminating on your task list could be compounding your stress. Often, stress is created by worrying about the future or thinking a lot about the past, both of which can be destructive and create more stress. That is why it is important to pull yourself into the moment and stay focused on what you have control of right now. These small but easy tricks can make a world of difference when you’re at work and on the road.

Ashley Spreda, LICSW, CDP, practices behavioral medicine at Pacific Medical Centers at its Federal Way and Renton clinics.