Balancing Work and Well-Being: Strategies for Stress Management

For many American employees, gone are the days of leaving work problems behind at the workplace. More people now work from home, which can create the pressure to always be “on,” blurring the line between on-the-clock and personal time. Others, from frontline medical personnel to restaurant employees, started working more hours during the pandemic. And even traditional office jobs can be stressful due to long commutes, demanding bosses, and staff shortages.

It’s no surprise that The American Institute of Stress reports that 83% of U.S. workers experience work-related stress. In fact, 25% of them claim that their job is the #1 stressor in their lives. More than ¾ ths of them (76 percent) note that work-related stress negatively impacts their personal relationships, and more than half report a decrease in workplace productivity. Ultimately, work stress affects overall mental health, leads to burnout, and can even trigger physical illness or workplace violence.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to incorporate stress management techniques to help you cope. Maintaining a healthier work-life balance can create higher-quality productivity in the long run, as well as help foster better mental and physical fitness.

But what does that mean in practice? Let’s look at some elements of work-life balance, plus some reliable stress-busters that you can use anytime to unwind before, during, or after a difficult workday.

Work-Life Balance

Today, there is more awareness around the importance of balancing both work and personal life. But our culture can also glorify working too hard or too long without breaks. A 2023 survey from the Pew Research Center found that almost half of Americans (46 percent) report that they do not take all of the time off that their jobs allow. Just slightly more (48 percent) do take all of their paid time off.

Work-life balance can be defined as prioritizing both work duties and personal life needs in such a way that both are attended to fairly—without creating heaps of stress in the process. And keep in mind that just because we’re not “on the clock” doesn’t mean we’re not stressed out while juggling other daily life to-dos. This can be especially true for women, who may be expected to perform a larger share of tasks like childcare and housework. On top of that, women are often given messages of sacrificing, being selfless in giving to others, and not taking time for themselves.

Therefore, a couple of things we can do are clear: As much as possible, take the time off that is allotted to us. At the same time, prioritize our own care so that we can show up for everything else—work, family, and other commitments—in a fuller way. When we are exhausted, stressed, angry, resentful, or simply bone-tired, we can’t possibly perform our best at work or at home. It’s as simple as that. To combat overwhelm, it’s important to take some time out for stress-relieving techniques, downtime, and rest—as well as to maintain a baseline of healthy habits round the clock.

4 Stress Management Techniques to Help Master Your Work-Life Balance

Better Work-Life Balance | How to Manage Stress | BrainMD

The next time you’re feeling work-related stress—or, even better, before you do—use one or more of these tried-and-true stress management techniques:

 1. Tend to the basics.

Diet, exercise, hydration, sleep—without these cornerstones of health and energy, stress management is going to feel like an uphill battle. That’s because stress and these few basics all work hand in hand. For example, eating junk food has been shown to have even worse effects on the body when someone is under extreme stress. Carbs can increase levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. On the other hand, foods high in nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and omega-3s (think red peppers, avocados, spinach, salmon, and berries) can help quell feelings of stress and sharpen the mind.

Meanwhile, exercise helps stimulate feel-good endorphins, release tension in the body and mind, and even combat mental health issues like mood problems or panic attacks. And you can do it anywhere, anytime—no equipment needed. Staying hydrated will boost your exercise performance, as well as your cognitive function. Studies have shown that being dehydrated can affect various markers of mood, including contentedness, calmness, and positive emotions.

Finally, sleep hygiene is crucial. When you don’t get enough shut-eye, you’re prone to a long list of problems: weight management issues, high blood pressure, heart health conditions, and increased chance of accidents, to name a few. But your mood can suffer, too—you might forget things, have trouble concentrating, and feel easily irritated. A good night’s sleep is helpful for sticking to a proper diet and exercise, too.

 2. Go within.

Quiet time alone is a must for recharging yourself. And the good news is that you can spend this time in numerous ways. I recommend trying meditation—even starting with 5 to 10 minutes per day is a great way to develop the habit. It has numerous positive effects on physical and mental health, and helps keep you calmer throughout the day, even in the face of stressors.

You could also try a “moving meditation” like yoga or tai chi. Or you could simply take a walk, preferably in nature (just leave the devices behind). Giving yourself some fresh air, movement, and a break from your normal environment is beneficial in many ways. In addition, make sure you build regularly scheduled breaks into your day. Burning the candle at both ends without rest or downtime is a sure ticket to fast burnout.

 3. Stimulate your mind.

To lessen stress, you can stimulate and relax your brain all at once with a pleasant activity. Try a new or favorite hobby like making art, playing a musical instrument, cooking a new recipe from scratch, or playing a sport. You might pick up journaling, which has been shown to help decrease stress and feelings of anxiousness while building resilience.

As a bonus, add in a gratitude practice, in which you list a few things every day that you’re thankful for. This helps train your brain to look for positives in life instead of focusing on negatives. You can also provide an extra lift to your downtime through add-ons such as soothing music or scents, chanting, prayer, or positive affirmations. Starting and ending your day with any of these practices can make a remarkable difference.

 4. Seek anti-stress support.

Supplements offer an easy way to take in nutrients that are associated with mood improvement. One great choice is BrainMD’s Happy Saffron Plus, which combines three key ingredients—curcumin extract, saffron extract, and zinc—that help promote a more positive mood, emotional balance, and a calmer mind and body. (My husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, calls it “happiness in a bottle.”)

BrainMD’s L-Theanine Gummies also help calm the mood, encourage better stress responses, help lower levels of cortisol in the body, and may even enhance sleep. Other mood-boosting BrainMD supplements include supportive ingredients like SAMe, magnesium, serotonin, methylfolate, and more.

Cope Healthier

In the not-so-distant past, it might have been considered a default response to come home from a stressful workday and scream at a family member, pour a strong cocktail, light a cigarette, and zone out in front of the television. Americans may feel more stressed-out than ever before, but the good news is we have more resources to help establish a better work-life balance, and a better understanding around the dangers of overwork and overwhelm.

Today, we know that unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol and junk food, only make everything worse. Instead, we can lean on many stress management techniques—some, like meditation, proven effective over hundreds of years—to help us cope in a healthier way. It’s best to use as many strategies as we can to start reaping the mental health benefits, making both work and home life a lot less stressful every day.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN