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Phoenix Forward

5 ways to reduce stress by focusing on the present

Learn to stay in the present

You’re worried that a pending merger means you’ll be laid off. You’re terrified you’ll botch next week’s big presentation. You’re also worried that your annual review is coming up in mere months. Meanwhile, today’s project sits untouched on your desk.

“It’s normal to experience stress on the job,” says John Nixon, EdD, a licensed professional counselor and clinical director for the counseling program at the University of Phoenix Las Vegas Campus. “But when you allow fear of possible catastrophe to consume your thoughts, failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The solution? “Focus on the task at hand,” Nixon advises. He explains five ways you can stay in the present and be calm and productive at work:

Take a deep breath.

Whenever you’re under stress at work, stop to breathe deeply, which studies show can slow your heart rate and reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, according to Nixon.

“Diaphragmatic breathing is a very effective [calming] technique, because when you’re under stress, the fight-or-flight response kicks in, and your breathing becomes shallow,” he explains.

Concentrating on your breathing also helps unclutter your mind and stop negative thinking in its tracks, Nixon explains. “The only thing we really can control is ourselves,” he says. “Focusing on our breathing takes us back to what we can control, instead of worrying about what we can’t.”

Be mindful.

Mindfulness techniques include yoga, meditation and simply concentrating on whatever task you’re currently working on, however mundane. “Mindfulness is a concept rooted in Buddhism but is applicable to everyone,” Nixon notes. “When we’re mindful, we can step outside the situation that’s stressing us out and observe without judging.”

Go for a walk.

Nixon recommends taking walks, which incorporate elements of meditation with physical activity. “When you take a walk away from the office, pay attention to your environment instead of your thoughts,” he recommends. “Just let the thoughts come and go freely — don’t obsess on or analyze them.”

Bring nature indoors.

If you can’t take a walk outside, bring the calming power of nature indoors, Nixon advises. “A lot of companies are investing in meditation rooms, indoor gardens and large windows as a means to combat stress,” he notes, explaining that even a few moments gazing out a window or tending a plant can restore balance.

Accentuate the positive.

Sometimes the difference between fear and inspiration is your attitude, Nixon says. He refers to a 2008 brain-imaging study that analyzed how Olympic swimmers reacted to watching videos of themselves losing races.

“They were coached to view the video as an opportunity to improve versus [as] a failure, and later their brain scans revealed lower stress levels and more happiness,” he explains. “Their positive attitude shut down self-criticism before it started.”

Employees can do the same on the job, Nixon says. “Those who maintain grace under pressure are viewed as more flexible and promotable than those who are constantly stressed out.”