Work and Wellbeing · 1 January 2020

5 ways to stop stress eating in the office


Occasionally stress can be surprisingly beneficial for us. Stimulating our ‘fight or flight’ response, the released epinephrine hormone can help us work more efficiently.

However, it’s no secret that too much stress is bad for us. According to a YouGov poll, three-quarters of people have been overwhelmed and ‘unable to cope’ as a result of stress. And it’s taking its toll on the UK workforce, which loses 15.4 million working days a year due to this issue.

As many are aware, stress can also lead to over-eating. The primary stress hormone, Cortisol, is linked to increased hunger. In the run-up to National Stress Awareness Day, what can employers do to reduce stress-eating?

1. Talk it out

Stop stress eating
Extra weight: Are your employees using food as a coping mechanism for workplace stress?

Studies show those who feel isolated are more vulnerable to stress. Feelings of loneliness and believing you have no one to talk to can lead to employees becoming overwhelmed.

Managers should make sure communication is always open – for example, by offering weekly drop-in sessions or using an informal instant messaging platform – to help alleviate these potential employee stressors.

Look for signs of struggle in employees, for example, negative mood changes or not being as talkative as they usually are, as these may be a sign of an underlying problem.

Approach the situation with care but do check in with them. Noticing these changes and taking the employee aside for an informal chat may help them start to deal with the problem. When chatting to them, make sure you genuinely listen to what they’re saying and try to provide helpful solutions.

2. Change your/their diet

Stop stress eating
Five a day: Encourage your employees to avoid reaching for an unhealthy snack.

There’s a reason stressed employees gravitate towards sugary treats and fatty foods. Sugar stimulates opiate receptors and triggers the brain’s reward centre. This is why you get more satisfaction from grabbing chocolate over a banana when stressed.

This doesn’t mean you should stop snacking altogether when feeling stressed. Simply make sure you’re making healthier choices. Swap out fatty snacks for nutrient-rich foods like fruit or oats. This way, you’ll be satisfying your craving while looking after your body with valuable nutrients

Most of the time, the physical act of reaching for food becomes more of a habit than the actual need for food. Teaching employees about healthy eating habits can help curb these habits.

Employers can use the NHS Eatwell guidelines as a reference, to show employees how to balance their diets and make healthier choices.

3. Get them moving

Three colleagues walking in the park
Shake it off: Employees should be encouraged to move more both in and out of the office.

Employers should aim to promote healthy lifestyles as well as offering emotional support. This can be done by either promoting, or investing in, health and wellness programs.

Even pushing your team towards light exercise can get endorphins pumping, producing a natural ‘high’ that alleviates tension. Even going for a 20-minute walk a day can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 percent.

Having an active and healthier workforce brings workplace benefits too. Healthier individuals have improved workplace morale, improved employee engagement reduced absenteeism from illness.

Consider inviting an exercise specialist into the office to run seminars on easy ways to get active and to chat to employees about simple changes they can make to get their steps up each day. It could be as simple as using the stairs instead of lifts or getting off the tube a stop early and walking the rest of the way to work.

4. Show them you care

A slice of gratitude: Take the time to talk to your employees.

Employees want to feel appreciated, and research shows those who are shown more gratitude at work are often less stressed.

Invest yourself in your team’s daily tasks and get to know how individuals prefer to receive praise, so you can provide genuine, positive feedback.

Create a workplace culture that celebrates employees, for example by mentioning outstanding achievements in weekly meetings or providing lunch for the office at the end of a positive spell of work.

5. Tackle workload ‘overload’

Stress eating.
Delegate your work fairly so that employees don’t feel overwhelmed.

The leading cause of workplace stress is an unmanageable workload. Studies show 38 percent of those suffering from stress cited an ‘increased workload’ as the cause.

Every business experiences busier periods, and employees – especially those in senior positions – are often left to manage their own deadlines and work to tight turnarounds. It’s important for employees to know how to deal with mounting workloads and prevent them from becoming too much.

Encourage employees to prioritise tasks and let them know it’s okay to work through a list of tasks one at a time, rather than trying to balance multiple projects. Research from the University of London suggests that frequent multitasking hinders productivity and quality of work, as well as causing more stress.

Seeing a visual breakdown of what needs to be done and task deadlines can help employees feel in control of their schedule.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rachel is an Area Manager in the Retail Department at Express Vending. She leads a team of Retail Merchandisers covering the West London area. Her expertise are in delivering world-class customer service and EVL refreshment solutions to businesses across the London area.

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