You do yoga five days a week, meditate, and even splurge on a monthly massage. So why are you still feeling so agitated all the time? Getting to the bottom of the sources of stress in your life won’t just put a smile on your face. It can also improve the function of your body and mind, says the American Psychological Association. Living in a constant state of tension can put you at risk for chronic pain, fertility issues, even heart disease and Type Two diabetes.
Read on for six surprising ways stress can sneak up on you. Eliminate them now so you can get back to your ohm.
1. You’re Surrounded by Clutter
When the space you live or work in is cluttered, you’re adding unnecessary tension to your life. Thanks to how your brain processes visual information, it will automatically think chaos (even if you know exactly where everything is), according to research from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published in The Journal of Neuroscience. And the effect isn’t pretty: The visual interpretation of disarray will hurt your ability to focus, make you distracted, and even slow down your knack for interpreting information. (Clutter is particularly counterproductive at work.)
Carve out time to reorganize your space. Minimize the clutter and your brain will thank you for it. Here are some tips on how to make your workspace work for you.
2. You Work With High-Strung People
Did you know that just being around high-strung people can make you feel stressed? Seeing someone become unglued can actually trigger the same physical response in you, according to a team of German researchers from Leipzig and Dresden. Dubbed “empathic stress,” this phenomenon causes your body to produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as if you’re the one under pressure.
If you can’t move away from your stressed-out colleagues, give yourself a buffer. Alter the configuration of your computer, phone, and chair, so you face away from your stress-inducing culprits. Or, invest in some plants. Who knows, a little greenery may do you both some good, say Norwegian environmental psychologists. They found that potted plants reduce stress for everyone in the workplace. If the stress levels get too high in your office, take a walk outside for a breath of fresh air.
3. You’re Too Social on Social Media
Sure, socializing with friends is a great way to live happier and longer. But does logging onto social media sites or relying on email to contact your pals count?
Not necessarily, found experts. A dependence on social media sites (from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Instagram) does not enhance well-being, say psychiatrists, and, in fact, may undermine it. In one study, in which subjects ramped up their social media usage during a 14-day period, researchers found the participants’ state of happiness decreased quickly as their usage increased. While we’re not sure exactly why this happens, the University of Michigan researchers believe the computer deters actual physical interaction, “which has cognitive and emotional replenishing effects,” while triggering “damaging social comparisons” with friends’ and acquaintances’ digital personas. (A result that may disproportionately affect women, as we spend more time than men on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.)
Balance is key. Remember, hyper-use is defined as spending more than three hours a day on social media sites or sending out more than 120 messages a day. While this amount is extreme, it’s still best to limit usage to a narrow window of time once or twice a day. Chances are, your level of anxiety will drop as your usage does.
4. You’re Too Composed
If you think keeping your cool all the time on the outside is the best persona, think again. Sometimes this image can wreck havoc on your emotional well-being on the inside, say experts. In a new study from the USC Marshall School of Business, sharing your feelings of anxiety or stress with colleagues, even superiors, who have had similar experiences can actually improve your mood and your relations with peers and bosses because they feel a connection.
Have your first presentation in front of an audience of 100 coming up? Reach out to a boss who has done similar public speaking engagements in the past. Not only will her suggestions alleviate your worry, it may help you build a rapport you never had before.
5. You’re Too Damn Serious
You may think staying focused will keep you ahead of feeling stressed or overwhelmed. But taking a break from work is actually key to keeping your tension to a minimum. Keeping your nose to the grindstone for too long can hinder your performance, not help it. When you embrace brief diversions after just 50 minutes of intense concentration, you’ll produce better results—and remain calm.
At work? Grab a cup of coffee with a friend. Or just take a walk around the block. You may think that you’re taking precious time away from your looming deadline. But in reality, you’re helping to meet it as you’ll be more focused when you return. Same goes with big projects outside of work.
6. You Work in an Open-Space Floor Plan
Can’t shake that feeling of being overwhelmed most days? Don’t blame your project manager. It could be the fault of your work-space design. If you’re in an open-floor plan, you’re likely to feel more stress than those who work in private spaces, according to a recent study by Australian researchers. From the cacophony of noise around you to the level of overhead light you can’t control, those who sit in partition-less zones tend to have significantly higher levels of stress, agree Harvard researchers.
Try to convince your superiors to let you work from home more often. It will have very real effects on your tension level—and performance—according to a recent Stanford study. Home workers had a 13% performance increase and said their stress decreased by 25% percent. Now, that’s a relief.
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