What Work Stress Does to Your Mind and Body—and How to Deal

Last Update: September 28, 2022

“She’s not happy unless everyone around her is panicked, nauseous, or suicidal.”

Unfortunately for many of us, it’s way too easy to relate to Anne Hathaway’s characterization of her hellish boss in “The Devil Wears Prada.” That’s because Americans are obsessed with working—and constantly stressed about performance. Those in corporate jobs report that they work overtime (more than nine hours a day) at least 35 percent of the time; and thanks to smartphones and world-wide connectivity, more than a quarter of employers expect employees to check work email on weekends, sick days, and during vacation.

Even if you love your boss, you’re probably still stressed. Deadlines, interpersonal office relationships, and staff management are the top three causes of anxiety for most workers, according to a survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

OK, it’s not exactly fun to be freaking out about deadlines all the time, but it’s just part of work, right? Not true, says Dr. Robin Berzin of Parsley Health, a web-based private wellness practice that works with high-profile execs and busy city-dwellers who are used to living at a breakneck pace: “People don’t really understand the degree to which stress affects their health. They think [it’s] just a mental thing, and it doesn’t matter. But chronic stress can lead to infertility, weight gain, digestive problems, acne, and skin problems.”

And work-related pressure doesn’t just mess with your health. Eighty-three percent of men and 72 percent of women say that anxiety related to work messes with their personal lives and relationships outside of work.

If you’re sweating just reading this, relax. It’s possible to manage on-the-job stress with just a few easy tricks. Curbing anxiety will make you more efficient, improve mental clarity, and—hey!—might even help you really enjoy your 9-to-5.

Start with food

Eating your feelings is totally a thing—especially at work. Women are 46 percent more likely to grab a snack when they’re stressed. “Most people do need to stay away from fake foods, refined sugars, cookies, cakes, breads, pastas—basically anything that’s in a bag that you can pop open. Sugar and refined grains like white flour are the two biggest things that make people sick and contribute to stress,” according to Berzin.

So put down the potato chips, and pick up a few of these anxiety-busting foods instead:

  • A handful of almonds gives you a dose of zinc, healthy fats, and iron. Zinc deficiency has been linked to depression and anxiety. Iron fends off mental fatigue, helping you to feel in control and alert, prepared to take on your day.
  • Get zen with tryptophan, the amino acid that increases serotonin production. Serotonin plays a significant role in emotional moods, pain control, and inflammation, and so it’s wise to get as much flowing as you can if your work environment gives you a headache! Find tryptophan in seaweed or nori snacks.
  • Avocado toast isn’t just trendy. The high magnesium count in everybody’s favorite green fruit could actually help calm and center you before an important meeting or presentation. Chronic stress leads to increased cortisol creation, which results in depleted magnesium levels. Getting more magnesium not only restores your body, but also prevents the entrance of stress hormones into the brain.

Get good with bacteria

The gut has been called “the second brain,” and there are plenty of studies that link gut health to mental well-being. Berzin often recommends a customized probiotic to patients who struggle with anxiety and stress. “Certain strains of probiotics can be really helpful. But it’s important to realize that not every brand is created equal,” she says.

If you’re not already, start taking a probiotic regularly to keep things in check. Need help picking one out? Check out this probiotic buying guide.

 Find your ohm

One of the most important things that you can do to relieve anxiety, increase brain power, and improve mental health? Start meditating. “A breathing exercise as short as two minutes can be effective,” says Berzin. She tells her clients to try mediation apps like Headspace, Buddhify, and Calm for a quick session any time, anywhere.

Not only will it leave you feeling refreshed, but meditating a few minutes a day is linked to enhanced attention span, cognition, and efficiency in the workplace.

Finally, recognize that your mental health is just as important as your physical health—and consistently high anxiety levels will eventually take a toll on your body, too. “Stress is an important thing, but when we’re stressed all the time our bodies never get to rest, digest, heal, and restore,” says Berzin. “If you can take just two minutes to be still and calm, you’ll feel a difference immediately.”

Check out Parsley Health on Facebook and Twitter, and vote for their awesome newsletter in the Webby Awards!

Photo credit: Lumina via Stocksy

This article is related to:

Stress, Stress Relief

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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