4 Ways to Destress According to Psychology


Stress is contagious.

No, seriously.

According to a study, empathetic stress (aka inadvertently sharing someone else’s stress) manifested in up to 40% of participants who witnessed a strained situation. Imagine, just being in the proximity of a stressed individual can lead to symptoms like muscle tension, anxiety, and headaches.

But beating stress is complicated—especially at work. If stress runs throughout a business, it leads to a toxic environment that breeds a lack of productivity, teamwork, and respect.  

So how is this combated?

Once more, we turn to science. This time, psychology. It turns out those experts who study the human mind and behaviors have some ideas on what we can do to create more positive work experiences.

But don't take our word for it...

My workspace, my truth.

  • Monitor
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Mouse Pad
  • Telephone
  • Picture Frame

This list comprises everything one company in Australia allowed its employees to have on their desks. Nothing else.  

While the rule undoubtedly promoted a tidy workspace, it ruined productivity.

Two psychologists tested the effects of workplace decoration in 2010. Their goal? To discover how environment affects work.

The researchers rigged multiple types of workspaces—one relatively plain, another tastefully accented, and one that participants could decorate themselves.

While work lagged in the plain offices, the psychologists found that it soared in the spaces participants could decorate themselves. In fact, productivity rose by 30 percent.

So next time you cringe at your co-worker’s bobblehead collection or unrelenting love of the Dodgers, restrain yourself. You’re harshing someone’s mental mellow.

Incense and peppermints.

Communal spaces are the bane of human existence. In the immortal words of Shawn from Accounting, “No one wants to smell that.”

But, will a nice-smelling workplace accomplish a more positive effect?

According to research, yes. Nice smells encourage generous behaviors.

A study split participants between two rooms: One that was dirty and another clean with a pleasant odor. Researchers then asked the participants to accept a brochure for a nonprofit organization. According to the results:

"The participants in the nice-smelling room were more likely to take the flyer, and to report that they would volunteer for the organization." 

Sure, incense or air fresheners won’t entirely transform your company’s culture—but if it makes people happier, then that’s a good start.

You talkin' to me?

Speaking of happiness, research has found that not taking yourself seriously has its advantages—specifically if you’re in on the joke.

Treating a shortcoming in a humorous manner doesn’t necessarily mean you have low self-esteem. In fact, according to this article:  

"…those who make self-deprecating jokes do not have low self-esteem, nor are they prone to depression. They may, in fact, be happier and better socially adjusted than most people."

The researchers theorize that this appeals to others because it shows you have the ability to accept your own imperfections.

In fact, comedy goes a long way in a workplace. This researcher told the Wall Street Journal that people communicate better when there is humor. This leads to more constructive comments and ultimately greater productivity.

Crochet all day.

How do you destress? Maybe a walk around the block or a quick nap?

Great choices, but they probably don’t offer the exact results you’re looking for.

Scientists at the University of Michigan discovered that the passive act of relaxation isn’t always the ideal tool to fight stress. Instead, they concluded that:

“… learning something new at work was not only a great stress buffer but it also was useful in managing negative emotions at work (e.g., anxiety, disappointment, and frustration). Taking time to relax at work did not serve as a buffer for negative emotions.”

Learning engages your mind in a new way, helps you discover your personal strengths, and encourages interpersonal connections.

So, learn to crochet. Or speak another language. Or take up photography. Just learn something, anything new.

Whether it’s potpourri or paragliding, psychologists give you a variety of options to decrease stress within your workplace. So take advantage of their findings. After all, they are the experts.

April 12, 2018
Kate Wilson
Social Media Manager,
Kate is in charge of all things social at When she's not writing every type of content imaginable, she's drinking strong coffee and debating the use of the Oxford comma with her coworkers.