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4 science-backed ways to be less stressed and more productive at work

If you feel like you're barely getting by at work, especially on a Monday, you're not alone.

Professionals are working longer hours, leaving vacation days unclaimed and are worried about family and money. In fact, Americans are more anxious now than they have been at any other time in the past decade, research by the American Psychological Association shows.

And a tense political climate doesn't help. Since the U.S. presidential election, more workers report feeling more cynical and negative during the workday.

But stress, which can decrease your productivity at work, doesn't have to damage your career. Adopting a few habits recommended by psychologists and scientific researchers can help stave off the Monday blues.

Here are four science-backed strategies to improve your work life:

1) Take a walk

A trader talks on the phone as he walks outside the New York Stock Exchange.
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A trader talks on the phone as he walks outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Research conducted at Princeton University found that physical activity actually "reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function."

And by being outside in nature (if you can) and getting some sunlight, you're more likely to decrease your cortisol levels, which rise when you're stressed.

A quick stroll could also help you solve a difficult problem at work. Stanford researchers found that the act of walking boosted a person's creativity by an average of 60 percent.

2) Try deep breathing

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Marlynn Wei, a Harvard- and Yale-trained psychiatrist and yoga instructor, recommends a simple breathing exercise to relax while at the office. She says it has helped many of her clients find immediate stress reduction.

Here's how to do it: Set a timer for two minutes and focus on your breath. Take a deep breath through your nose while you count for a few seconds, hold your breath and release a long exhale. Repeat until your timer beeps.

3) Exercise

While you may not have time or energy to run multiple miles each day, squeezing in just minutes of intense physical activity is proven to reduce anxiety and release endorphins, which make you feel happier.

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Billionaire Richard Branson, for example, always makes a point to bike, play tennis or run. He says that working out "doubles" his productivity.

But don't just take his word for it. According to Harvard Medical School's journal, working out releases brain chemicals key to better memory, concentration and mental sharpness.

4) Keep a gratitude journal

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Scientific research from notable psychologists shows that grateful people are more likely to be happy and successful. Keeping a gratitude journal is a research-backed way to get there.

A widely cited study by UCLA and the University of Miami found that people who wrote down what they were grateful for on a weekly basis were more cheerful and optimistic about the upcoming week than those who didn't. They also had fewer doctor visits and missed fewer days of work.

If reducing stress at work is one of your big goals, consider the advice of behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely.

Ariely, an author and Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, recommends you break out your goals into specific steps in your calendar. That way you'll have time set aside for self-improvement.

Check out 5 tricks to fall asleep when your mind is racing about work