31 March 2023

10 ways to cope with stress

Without a doubt, the last years have been and continue to be challenging (Covid-19, Ukraine war, cost-of-living crisis). More than half of all workers in the EU report say that they are negatively affected by work-related stress. Browse MHE’s guide on how to cope with stress during these testing times.

1. Follow a daily routine 

Coming up with a structured plan for each day with clear boundaries between your working and private life will give you a sense of control amid the uncertainty. Try to divide your day into small activities and make sure you build in time to do things you enjoy, from pursuing your hobbies or exercising to spending time with your children or pets. Moreover, set a daily routine for work: take regular breaks, leave your desk for lunch, and have a fixed time to turn off. Additionally, focus on getting enough sleep and regularly eating healthy meals.  

Read MHE’s guide on how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus crisis >> 

2. Exercise

Physical activity can do wonders for your mental health – especially if you are feeling stressed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week – or if you are very motivated, a combination of both. That’s as little as 15 minutes a day! WHO suggests these fitness tips to exercise at home: 

  • Take short active breaks throughout the day: from performing domestic chores to playing with your children, short sessions of physical activities will keep you busy. 
  • Follow an online exercise class: thanks to the internet, there is a huge selection of online exercise courses, many of them are for free and can be found on YouTube. 
  • Walk: this tip may be simple, but it is still effective. Even at home, walking around will help you to remain active. If you have a call, for example, stand or walk around instead of sitting down. 
  • Stand up: the WHO recommends standing up every 30 minutes to reduce your sedentary time. If you are working from home, consider setting up a standing desk. During leisure time, follow cognitively stimulating activities: reading, board games or puzzles. 
  • Relax: Meditation and breathing exercises can help you to better cope with stress. 

Read more about WHO’s recommendations on how to stay physically active during the pandemic >> 

3. Set limits on news

Excessively checking news updates (Covid-19, war, the economy) can leave you stressed and emotionally exhausted. Try to make a conscious effort to disconnect and build healthy news habits: turn off push notifications from news apps, seek factual information from trusted sources and set specific times for checking the news (i.e. once in the morning and evening). Watch the news with others to discuss any worries you might have and to avoid anxious thoughts going unchecked. Another tip is to look for positive, uplifting stories and good news amid the pandemic. Celebrating positive stories can boost your mood and wellbeing. 

Read WHO’s tips on how to stop the spread of misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis >>

4. Spend time in nature

Try to spend time in nature as numerous studies have shown it has a positive effect on mental health. Spending just 20 minutes connecting with nature can help lower stress hormone levels. Consider taking a stroll in the park after work. Time spent in nature also contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress hormones. Take Scandinavians as an example with their cultural tradition of “open air life”: despite freezing temperatures, they dress for the weather and get outside as they are aware of the positive impact on mental health. Although the prospect might be daunting, once you are outside it feels better than you expected. With the winter months approaching, an alternative could be adding green elements (i.e. plants and flowers) to your place – simply having a plant on your work desk can reduce stress and anxiety and improve your mental health in the long term. 

Check out five ways to wellbeing during tough times >> 

5. Try controlled breathing

When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, your body goes into the fight or flight response. This state aims to help us respond to a dangerous situation. But if you allow your body to remain stressed for long periods, the fight or flight response, which suppresses our digestive and immune systems, can take a toll on your health. Therefore, controlled breathing is vital to reverse this process: by slowing down your breathing and regulating oxygen intake, you can calm down your stress levels. Experts recommend 3-5 minutes of controlled breathing every day – try to include it in your daily routine in the morning or after work. 

See WHO’s illustrated guide on stress management >>

6. Be an empathetic and compassionate team worker

In your work, particularly if you are a manager, be clear about your expectations. Promote and model flexibility and recognise staff’s extra needs, such as caring responsibilities when working from home. 

Experts suggest that supportive communication within the team is crucial in distressing circumstances. It is important to: 

  • Discuss and agree beforehand on performance measures and targets (both at the individual- and team-level); 
  • Be clear about work schedules (especially for workers who might not be available to work for certain times of the day) and inform colleagues of what works for you and how to fit around the schedule; 
  • Recognise the value and supportive nature of teams, particularly in taking decisions, to build resilience and support people in coping with times of uncertainty. 

Maintaining regular, open and two-way communication with the team, making mental health a normal part of these conversations and reminding on the importance of self-care is vital to protect the mental health and wellbeing of employees during the pandemic.

Find out more about the needs and challenges of homeworkers during the coronavirus pandemic >> 

See MHE infographic on how to promote mental health in the workplace  >> 

7. Limit your social media intake

On the one hand, social media is a great way to connect with others. On the other hand, it can amplify anxiety and stress with a constant flow of worrisome (mis)information. Therefore, be careful about your social media use: consider turning off push notifications, unfollowing or muting accounts which are triggering for you, muting WhatsApp groups and hiding Facebook posts and feeds that might overwhelm you. A lot of devices nowadays even offer a function to notify you once you’ve reached your daily time limit of social media use.  

Feeling anxious? Check out these tips on how to cope with anxiety >> 

8. Reach out to others

Without social interaction is key. Making time to reach out and connect with others is important for our mental health. Socialising decreases stress and anxiety while supporting calm and happy feelings. By talking to someone, we share our emotions and experiences, provide or receive support which makes us feel connected. When we socialise and have physical proximity to others, we reduce cortisol levels. Simply sharing our concerns with a loved one can help us feel better.

Talking to a friend or family member can be a helpful way to keep your stress levels under control. Plan at least one connection a day – a phone call or a chat with a colleague or friend who you can share experiences with. Consider regular virtual meetings with family and friends to check in on each other. This can be a great source of support during these times.

Check out Family Wellbeing Toolkit from our member Mental Health Ireland >> 

9. Work-life balance is key

It looks like we will continue with partial telework for the foreseeable future. Some people find working from home beneficial for their wellbeing. But for others, working from home brings its own challenges. Longer working hours, isolation of being separated from colleagues, virtual communication issues and technological challenges can all make us feel increasingly stressed. Fear of infection, concerns over job security or continued income add up to the triggers for poor mental health. As the lines between work and home life blur, the risk of burnout increases.

Letting your work life take over your personal life can have a massive impact on your mental health. Make sure you set clear boundaries between the working and private life, for you as well as your colleagues (if you have management responsibilities). It can be hard to feel like you really left work when your living space has become your office. Therefore, set fixed times for the end of the workday, put away visual reminders (e.g. laptop, work papers) of the working day, turn off work-related notifications after working hours, get outside for a walk and switch off with relaxing activities and hobbies. Physically disconnecting from your workspace and allowing yourself the time to relax and recuperate after a day’s work will benefit your stress levels and help you to be more productive in the long-term.

Read the Mental Health Foundation’s tips on work-life balance for individuals and employers >> 

10. Seek professional support

If you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of professional support, there are many options available. You could seek help by a professional counsellor or look for peer support. Peer support means persons with lived experience of mental ill-health provide support to each other. Sessions are built on sharing personal experience and empathy while focusing on an individual’s strengths, wellbeing and recovery. If you want to avoid in-person meetings, consider looking for online options 

Check out MHE’s map of helplines and services to support your mental health during COVID-19 >> 

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