Some Simple Scientific Ways to Be Less Stressed at Work

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed at your job? Science can help.

It’s well-known that things like exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are important for both your physical and mental health and can have a huge impact on your stress levels as a result. But when the stress of the office has got you down, you can’t always drop everything to take a nap or hit the gym. Luckily, just a few small changes to your daily routine can take your stress level down a few notches.

These five scientifically proven tips will have you feeling more relaxed and ready to take on the work week.

1. Go green.

Being stuck in a cubicle or office with fluorescent lighting all day isn’t the most relaxing or inspiring environment. When you’re stuck in a small workspace and the work keeps piling on, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and feel stressed. But studies show that adding plants to your workspace can do more than just liven up your desk — it can help you stay calm and collected, too.

A Washington State University study found that, by adding plants to a windowless work place (in this case, a college computer lab) workers were less stressed, more productive and felt more attentive.

Researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, emotions and reaction time to a computer task both in the presence and absence of plants. When plants were added to the environment, participants experienced a 12 percent quicker reaction time as well as lower systolic blood pressure readings, according to the study.

2. Try aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is a holistic therapy technique that uses natural essential oils to improve physical and mental health. Essential oils can be used for many different reasons and in many ways (massage, topical application for healing, inhaling, etc.) but lavender and rosemary oils in particular have both been shown to have a positive effect on stress.

A study in the journal Holistic Nursing Practice found that smelling lavender and rosemary essential oils reduced test-taking stress in a group of graduate nursing students. This was “evidenced by lower scores on test-anxiety measures, personal statements and pulse rates,” according to the research.

Another study in the journal Psychiatry Research found that when sniffed for five minutes, both rosemary oil and lavender oil decreased levels of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” in participants.

So how can you take advantage of this research? Keep small vials of lavender and rosemary oils in your desk, and when you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break to breathe deep and enjoy the scent. You can also try burning candles made with these essential oils to de-stress at home.

3. Chew gum.

Chewing gum isn’t just a great trick for avoiding that ear-popping sensation you experience on a flight — it’s actually an effective way to relieve stress, too, according to research from the Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia.

Researchers studied 40 subjects during performance on a multi-tasking, stress-inducing platform called DISS (Defined Intensity Stressor Simulation) while chewing and not chewing gum. Anxiety, stress and alertness levels were measured before and after the activity. When chewing gum, participants reported lower levels of anxiety, with an almost 17 percent decrease during mild stress, and 10 percent during moderate stress. They also experienced an improvement in alertness and performance, according to the study.

Most important, however, measurements of the subjects’ cortisol levels showed that those who chewed gum during the activity also experienced lower stress. During mild stress simulation, levels were 16 percent less than those of participants who did not chew gum, and 12 percent less during moderate stress.

4. Take a walk.

So, maybe you can’t hit the gym for a vigorous workout when your midday workload has you feeling extra stressed, but you can take a break to go for a quick walk. Not only is being sedentary all day bad for your physical health, it’s not good for your mental health, either. Taking a midday stroll could is a great way to stay more active and reduce stress, too.

According to a study from the Psychology and Speech Pathology School at Curtin University in Australia, taking lunchtime walk breaks can help employees feel less stressed in the afternoon, TIME reported. Researchers studied 75 university administrative staff members over a 10-week period and found that subjects felt more relaxed, more enthusiastic and less nervous on days they took lunchtime walks as opposed to those when they did not.

So whether you go for a walk with your work friends or you take a solo stroll, a few minutes of walking can really boost your mood and help you de-stress at work.

5. Schedule time for emails.

With dozens (maybe even hundreds) of emails popping up in your inbox all day long, stress is practically inevitable. But research shows that setting aside specific times for checking your email — as opposed to checking them as they come in — can lead to lower stress.

A study from the University of British Columbia found that when subjects were limited to checking their email three times a day, they experienced significantly lower daily stress than they did when they could check their email an unlimited number of times.

The researchers explained that “limiting the number of times people checked their email per day lessened tension during a particularly important activity and lowered overall day-to-day stress,” New York Magazine reported.

Now you have an excuse for being a little more laid back when it comes to responding to all those pesky emails — it’s better for your health!