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How to Manage Your Own Stress

10 popular ways people are taking their wellbeing into their own hands

In researching and preparing to write 50 Top Tools for Employee Wellbeing, I realised that many of the initiatives and programmes I was proposing for the book were ‘top-down’ initiatives – proactive approaches that could be implemented by organizations and leaders to advocate and improve wellbeing.

However, it also occurred to me that there are many ‘self-directed’ actions that employees take every day to manage their own stress or anxiety at work, and I was interested to find out more about what they might be.

Informally, I carried out some simple research, asking a group of employees about what actions they took when feeling stressed. The group of c70 participants identified as many actions as they wanted to during the discussion and their responses were categorised.  Here are the top 10 categories in descending order: 

10. Step out

Employees recognised the value of taking a break from work, stopping for lunch rather than working through it, and stepping away from difficult situations or pressure points.

9. Organise work

For some, this was about lists or planning the week out. For others, it was about reprioritising or focussing on specific tasks.

8. Alcohol

Participants were encouraged to share ALL their approaches, and so gin, beer and wine featured heavily in their lists!

7. Colleague support

For many of the participants, seeking support, specifically from colleagues or other team members, was seen as a positive way to get through a difficult time. This is differentiated from ‘having a rant’ (which came 15th in the actions list), and the responses categorised here suggested a positive intent to get help, work together to find a solution or seek advice.

6. Support

More generally, the category of support contained the responses that didn’t identify where that support might come from. Responses such as ‘ask for help’, ‘talk to others’ or ‘get advice’ didn’t specify the source, but again suggested an intent to speak out and get help.

5. Family & social support

Similarly, support from partners, friends and family were one of the most frequently offered suggestions by participants.

4. Taking time out

This category included comments about switching the phone or laptop off, separating work and home life, and booking holidays. The separation between work and home life can be difficult for many, and our participants included home workers who found this particularly important.

3. Hobbies

Participants used their hobbies to switch off from work or stress – everything from cooking to reading to colouring in.

2. Mindset

Many participants identified their need to focus their own mindset – for example by recognising that ‘it’s just work’, or trying to stay positive, open-minded and future focussed. A few identified mindfulness as a more formal approach, having self-learnt some techniques that they found helpful.

1. Exercise

The most commonly quoted stress reliever was exercise. The majority of responses were about simply walking – sometimes with the dog – but also included going to the gym, yoga and running.


These are all actions that team members take on their own. They aren’t looking for their employers to just deliver something to them, they have their own approaches. However, people managers and organisation could usefully take note, as there are some things on this list that they can actively support, advocate and promote.

For example:

  • Allow people to take a break from work and get some fresh air – and set the example by doing it themselves

  • Encourage people to talk to each other, to collaborate and problem solve among themselves

  • Take the pressure off during their time off – don’t email team members over the weekend, or they may feel compelled to respond

  • Help team members to plan and organise their work – be clear about expectations and priorities and sources of support or advice

  • Provide quiet spaces for reflection, reading, timeout or mindfulness practice

None of these ideas cost the earth, and none of them are new and original ideas. However, with participants finding their own ways to de-stress, we are more likely to take our eye off the ball. My encouragement is to do the opposite – find out what works for your team members, and support them in using it when the pressure gets too much.

 Other noteworthy actions taken by our participants include:

  • Laugh at work!

  • Asking managers for support

  • Problem-solving for themselves

  • Learning to say no

  • Listening to and playing music

Many of the ideas identified here are mentioned in or encapsulated by tools that are detailed in 50 Top Tools for Employee Wellbeing.  Each tool includes guidance on when to use it, how long it will take and how to get the most out of it. Most importantly, the book explains how to measure the impact of each tool to show what's working and where efforts are best focused.

[The respondents involved in this research were in non-management roles, in an age range from 20s through to 60s, in a variety of office and home-based administrative, finance and customer-facing roles.]