5 Great Stress-Relieving Strategies for the Workplace
by Christine Brenneman

Long workweeks and crazy hours have become as common as voice mail and Palm pilots in today's workplace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 1999 that three in ten managers and professionals worked 49 hours or more in a week. Likewise, the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce, conducted by the Families and Work Institute in New York, states, ''Jobs have become more demanding -- more time-consuming and more hectic -- making it increasingly difficult to achieve a balance.'' But don't despair; even if you feel chained to your desk, simple stress-relief strategies can ease day-to-day tension. The following suggestions alleviate stress and integrate much needed breathing time into the hard-working woman's regular schedule.

Arrange to telecommute regularly or on occasion
Lots of companies are warming up to this once-radical idea, which allows the at-home worker to be in charge of her schedule and eases stress by providing a chance for high productivity on her own terms. ''Being able to work at home gives a person a sense of control over her professional life,'' said Jay Stewart, a licensed psychologist and executive coach in Denver. ''Plus, it's a way to create rhythm and balance and ensures less stress and greater productivity in the long run.''

Utilize lunch breaks for recreation
Short timeouts during the day, whether they're brisk walks around the block or trips to the gym, can help reduce stress and improve efficient functioning the rest of the day. According to Yesenia Hernandez, the people development coordinator at Excite at Home in Redwood City, California, more and more employees are taking advantage of brief breaks. ''We have a fitness gym on our campus, so our company encourages people to take the stresses off that way,'' she said. ''But even if you're at a very small company, without access to a gym, workers can easily get together for a group run or other exercise.'' Even a throwing a Nerf ball around or doing five minutes of yoga can let the air out of an over inflated schedule.

Capitalize on minor holidays or floating vacation days
Easily forgotten holidays such as Columbus Day or a floating vacation day away from work really can make a difference in your stress level -- if you know how to make the most of those 24 hours. Sleeping late is great, but the trick is to put the priority on stress reduction, and take purposeful steps in that direction. Schedule peace of mind into that day, says Bill van Bark, a psychology Ph.D. and specialist in human systems consulting in Denver. ''Get up at a reasonable time. Build in some relaxation time: a walk in the woods or a latte on the corner with a friend. Build in exercise, too; that increases the endorphin level and makes us feel good all over.''

Take minutes out of every hour to stand up and stretch
Small breathers that involve simply getting up and moving around can improve how the body and mind feel, in turn alleviating stress. The body simply wasn't designed to sit all day long, day after day so non-desk time is crucial. ''Lack of movement actually creates fatigue,'' says Rogelio Nunez, acupressure practitioner, yoga instructor and principle owner of Hands on Health Wellness in San Francisco. ''When you move around, the muscles in the legs help to pump blood back to the heart, which improves your energy and wakes you up.'' Program reminders into your handheld organizer or Microsoft Outlook organizer to prompt you to stretch that aching back.

Make use of flex time and flexible scheduling
In today's office culture, a great majority of companies allow employees to tailor their schedules according to their individual needs, as long as eight hours of work get done. Taking ownership of your time cuts down stress by allowing you to have a more flexible timetable for taking care of life's obligations.

''People in our office start work anytime between 7 AM and 10 AM, then stay until anytime from 3 to 6 PM,'' said Laura Neisius, human resource manager at Cedco Publishing in San Rafael, California. ''This allows the employees who have families to be home when the kids get home. It also means that the people who have heavy commutes don't have to rush and stress out before they even get to work.'' Talk to your boss about the possibilities of a flexible schedule, and come prepared with a list of why it would work.

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