It's no news flash that America's workers are stressed. We have 60,000 thoughts a day and 80 percent of those are worry or obsession, a large percentage related to work.
But there are ways to manage workplace tension — without resorting to obsessively clicking your pen or other habits that annoy colleagues.
I used to sit behind a guy who pounded the keyboard so hard as he typed on deadline that I was sure a finger would break off and hit me in the head.
Meanwhile, the worker in front of me? Let's just say you haven't seen tension until a red face turns purple and caveman-like grunts erupt.
Sometimes, their stressed-out habits distracted me. But I never held it against them. Who was I to complain? A colleague or two already had reprimanded me for snapping my gum too loudly.
"There are all these quirky little things that people do in the workplace to relieve stress that just drive other people nuts," said Zachary Meyer, senior vice president of Minneapolis-based Ceridian LifeWorks, a provider of employee assistance programs. He should know. His company conducted a survey asking customers to share some of their co-workers' craziest reactions to stress. The results:
• Pen-clicking maniac. All day. Every day.
• Stonewall Jackson: Goes mute and doesn't say a word when the chips are down.
• Miss Piggy: Sniffs and snorts.
• I'm so happy I could blow a gasket: Displays extreme giddiness when stressed. You may even hear high-pitched giggling.
• Doublemint Troublemint: Serial gum-snapping.
• Weight watcher: Grabs any junk food in sight to crunch on when stress levels go up.
"A lot of times, managing stress is an inside job," said Vicki Van Cleave, a counselor with employee assistance programs for Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis. "It's how you frame things. Self-talk."
Here are some tips for managing stress:
• Put the situation into perspective. Realize that one negative in a day doesn't take away all the positives. Make sure you remind yourself of what you did each day that is good. If no one else is going to do it, give yourself a pep talk.
• Pick your battles. Figure out what you can control, and let go of the things you cannot, said Van Cleave and counselor colleague Susan Wolf.
• Try physical stress-reduction techniques.
"We encourage everyone to breathe, and that's something most humans can do very well," said Van Cleave. Inhaling deeply for 15 to 20 seconds with a slow exhale can do wonders for a tense body and mind. Get up and take a walk around the office every hour or so. Roll your head and neck. Stretch.
• Take a vacation in your head.
"You can also distract yourself from the stress for a few minutes, just to get your mind off of it," Wolf said.
Work a Sudoku puzzle for five minutes. Putt a few golf balls. Play a game of solitaire.
All the while, remember stress isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"If you had zero stress in your life, you wouldn't have fun," said Meyer. "You would be dead."