Many of you work in an office. For eight hours a day, minus one or two fifteen minute breaks, you sit in front of a computer screen and work on tasks assigned to you by your superiors. Most days you’re restricted to your desk and sometimes work can be stressful. Only sometimes do you have the chance to stand up and take a break.
Increasingly we as human beings are sitting for hours in stressful work environments we can’t escape. A recent survey said that eighty three percent of Americans say that some aspect of the job causes them stress. Too much workplace pressure has been shown to have a detrimental effect on productivity. That being said, people today need techniques to de-stress right at their desk and not have to wait until they’re off the clock.
Over the years I’ve spent many extended periods behind a desk for work and school. As a result, I’ve developed certain techniques for when I’m stressed or when my brain is just plain fried to help get back into a productive mood. Some of these techniques I list in this article are ones I’ve tested personally. Others are techniques that have been proven by studies or have been tested by others.
That being said, this post is for the hours-on-hours-desk-sitters, the I-never-take-my-break-ers, the staring-at-the-screen-makes-my-eyes-hurt-ers, those nodding off at work, and those stressed out from dealing with their coworkers. I hope that these few tips will help you de-stress right at your desk and that, as a result, you’ll feel better and be more productive both at work and when you get home as well.
Get A Head Start On Your Day
One of the best things you can do to minimize your anxiety and stress over the day is to get to work early. Get up 30 minutes early from bed and leave 30 minutes early from home. You may arrive at work before you’re technically needing to be there. That’s okay. This will give you time to prepare for your day before your first meeting swamps you right at 8 am. You might even have time to grab your first cup of tea and just relax a few minutes.
Take A Breath
One of the best techniques I’ve learned for de-stressing is to take a breath. I know, you’ve heard this a hundred times before. But it works! Deep breathing has been shown to have massively beneficial subjective and objective effects on your body function. And it can be done anywhere, any time.
One blogger suggested to, when you breathe in, imagine air inflating your stomach instead of your chest. Push your stomach outwards to breathe in, then pull it back in to fully press the air out again. Do this three times then fall back into your normal breathing pattern.
Another technique that I find works well is the twenty count. When you get stressed or anxious, stop whatever it is you’re doing and count to twenty. Imagine the real, physical numbers in your brain. If you find your brain going back to the stressful subject, gently bring your mind back to imagining the numbers. Do this until you get to twenty. You might find, like I do, that your anxiety will be severely reduced by the time you get there. Resist the urge to stop half-way! Your anxiety brain will tell you that five or twelve is enough. But don’t listen to it! Go all the way to twenty. You won’t regret it.
A Workspace Reset
When I start feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I’ll take five minutes to tidy up my desk and even sometimes the room I’m working in. It works. I generally feel more productive and less overwhelmed when I do.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed today, take five minutes to clean up wrappers, compost your teabags, put away pencils and pens and throw away unused sticky notes (seriously, how long has that phone number been stuck to your computer screen?). In this time you might even be able to grab yourself another cup of tea. And speaking of tea…
Grab Tea Instead of Coffee
Coffee is amazing, Just saying. But in large doses it can be very hard on your stomach and keep you in a constant state of anxiety. So next time you stand up to grab that cup of joe, stop, and instead grab a cup of matcha or green tea. You’ll get the same warm feeling inside without the anxiety-increasing side effects.
Lists are an awesome way to keep practically and mentally organized. Personally I would be insane without my lists. Every night before I go to sleep I create a to-do list for the next day. Over the course of the day I add or subtract from it based on the things that I do and the things that get added on. Without this list I would be a hot mess and forget things left and right. This possibility would leave me very anxious. So I use todo lists and you probably should too.
Another type of list that you can make is a dedicated anxiety list. If my brain is fixating on a particular or set of anxieties and I’m having trouble focusing, I find it helpful to write these things down. For years I did this while laying in my bed going to sleep. I would keep a notebook on my end table so that if had a recurring anxiety I would write it down and almost immediately it would go out of my head. Something about the knowledge of your anxieties being written down helps you to let them go of them. You can then come back and address them at a later time after you’re done with whatever you’re trying to do.
Set Boundaries With Your Email
If you let it, answering email can consume you. I’ve heard of CEOs who spend several hours straight every day simply replying to and sending necessary emails. If you don’t set up boundaries, you could sink valuable productivity time into just emailing back and forth, leaving you with little time to do actual work.
That being said, set certain times that you respond to emails and certain times that you don’t. Only respond to emails that are necessary to be responded to. Don’t worry about responding to everything. Also, one blogger suggested using what he called the rule of three: if you’ve gone back and forth on a topic three times and you’re still confused or have questions, just pick up the phone.
Also, keep your inbox somewhat clean. Total transparency: this one is more of a do as I say not as I do, though, some of my inboxes are cleaner than others. I will say that I’m much more responsible and diligent about responding to mail from inboxes I keep clean. A cluttered email is like a cluttered desk: crap just gets lost and you’ll feel oppressed sometimes.
Look Away From Your Screen
Excessive screen use may harm your eyesight and your health in general. Your eye is like a muscle, it needs exercise in shifting focus planes to stay in shape. Your screen is a flat plane. If you’re only looking at a single plane for hours and hours on end, there’s danger of your eyes atrophying.
To combat this, every 30 minutes look away from your screen for 10 to 15 seconds. Look around the room. Look out your window and see something interesting. This will give you a much-needed break from what you’re doing and keep your eyes in tip-top shape (or at least in not as poor a shape. The reduced soreness and pain in your eyes will also help you to relax and de-stress.
Research has shown that dehydration directly affects your stress levels. Staying hydrated prevents your body from being taxed and can contribute to you feeling tired or sluggish throughout the day. This can make you less productive.
Drink water at regular intervals throughout the day. It will help you feel more awake and stress-free. Feeling tired? Odds are you’re dehydrated. Remember, your body is 90% water. You need to replenish this resource or it will not function well.
Fix Your Posture
Good posture can give you a boost your energy and reduce stress by increasing feelings of confidence and self-esteem. One researcher found that a slouched body posture can contribute to feelings of depression and lack of energy. Maintaining an upright posture can combat these feelings. Hold your head high! Keep your posture strong! It will help with more than just your back pain.
And speaking of posture, feeling a little bit stiff at your desk today? There are many simple stretches that you can do at your desk to increase blood flow and energy and decrease your stress. Here’s a list of stretches that you can do right at your desk:
Why pay $60 an hour to get a massage when you can get one right at your desk for free? Massage has been shown to reduce stress in many studies. And there are several different types of massage you can do on yourself right at your desk.
Starting with ear massage. Doing light ear massage and acupuncture was shown to reduce anxiety and stress in both pre-op and post-op hospital patients.
If you want to do an ear massage on yourself, massage the middle of your upper third of your ear gently. In traditional Chinese medicine, this spot is called the Shen Men point. If you’re having trouble finding that point, just massage your earlobes from bottom up and around the outer shell of your ear.
Make A Post-Work Plan
Life isn’t only work, you know. If you work a 40 hour week, sleep another 56 hours, that leaves you with 72 waking hours for you to delegate however you choose.
How are you going to spend that time off? Instead of sitting bored and stressed out at work, make yourself a plan of what you’re going to do when you get off! What excites you for the hour hand to hit five and for you to get out the door? Write it down. It will make the work day and the evening afterwards that much better.
Get back in to touch with your childish side: bring a colouring book to work. Adult coloring books are a big thing these days, and for good reason. These books allow people to tap into their creative side and let their brain take a break left-brain work. Some mandala designs even have a meditative aspect.
Coloring books are a great way to engage creativity and give you a much-needed break. And it can be done right at your desk.
Eat A Snack
Are you hangry? Eat. But don’t just grab something from the vending machine. Bring some carrots, celery, nuts or dried fruit to work from home and snack on them throughout the day. This will keep your blood sugar up, your weight steady, and your blood pressure down.
Congratulate Yourself or Someone Else
Too much of life is work. Not enough of it is celebration. Being celebratory both on small and large scales is essential to feeling like successful human beings. How often do we put our nose to the grindstone and push through projects without taking time to sit back and think about the work that we’ve already done?
That being said, take some time today to stop what you’re doing and praise yourself for what you’ve already accomplished. Did you cross off to-do list items? Tell yourself good job out loud! Or even better yet, tell good job to someone else! There’s nothing that a coworker will appreciate more than their hard work being noticed. That appreciation might even make the atmosphere you work in a little bit less stressful too. Everyone likes to feel appreciated!
Use Essential Oils
Essential oils have been around for a long time and have been used in natural wellness regimens for five thousand years. My wife likes to use lavender sometimes to help her to relax and chill out at night. Lavender essential oils have been shown to alleviate headaches, anxiety, depression, and muscle pain.
Whatever essential oil you choose, rub a few drops on your hands, cup them over your nose, and take a few deep breaths. This will make you feel a lot better and probably make you smell amazing too!
Pet an Animal, Real or Digital
Pet therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood by releasing oxytocin in the brain. Did one of your co-workers bring their dog? Take some time and go over and pet it. See a couple squirrels running around in the park? Sit at your desk and watch them for a few minutes.
Can’t find a real animal? Well, let me introduce you to the internet, home of such things as panda videos. Take two minutes and watch one. You might just feel better.
Engage Your Senses
Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and fingers. These are your primary sensory organs. When you use them in healthy ways, they are designed to bring you pleasure. Pleasure has been shown by, well, everything to reduce stress. Thus if you are stressed, you should use your eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and fingers in pleasurable ways.
Rub some lotion on your hands. Find something with a unique texture at your desk to touch. Are those flowers plastic or real? Find out using your nose. With practice, you can learn to recognize which types of sensory stimulation give you stress relief and do that more.
I don’t know if laughter is really the best medicine, but it certainly doesn’t hurt! Laughing can help you to soothe the tension in your office and reduce anxiety both in yourself and in those you’re laughing with. Laughing releases endorphins in the brain and gives you a better feeling throughout the day.
If you’re having a trouble laughing at work, keep some items around that will get you laughing. One blogger suggested keeping a folder filled with funny cartoons, photos, and jokes. Find those people at work that have good sense of humor and talk to them. Odds are they’re more than happy to laugh with you.
Remind Yourself Why
Wait a minute, why am I here? Why, exactly, am I doing this? This is a question we should ask when we realize that we are spending almost a quarter of our life in an office cubicle.
That being said, sometimes it’s helpful to remind ourselves why, in fact, we are doing this. This could mean looking at family photos. It could mean checking that savings account you’re going to use to get that new side-by-side that you’ve always wanted. It could mean job searching at that place you really want to go and maybe even putting in an application. Still don’t know why you’re in that cubicle? Don’t have a reason? Well, the question stands! Why are you still at this job?
Sometimes we can’t go home, but we can try to bring our home to work. Work shouldn’t be a place where we’re constantly stressed out. We should be able to relax at work just like we’re able to relax inside our comfy home.
In fact, it’s not doing anybody any favors if you’re stressed out all the time. Because, whether you know it or not, you’re being less productive as a result.
So take a few minutes today and just relax. Use one or multiple of these techniques to destress yourself. You’re doing yourself a favor. You’re doing your employer a favor. You’re doing everyone a favor by making stress-management a priority in your day, even if it’s from your desk at work.
About The Contributor
My name is William Bowman. I’m a fifteen-year video production expert with a degree in film production and five years of agency video production experience. I’m also the founder and owner of We Heart Create. Some examples of my video and photography can be found on the WHC Studios website:
I don’t get paid to contribute my knowledge to these blogs. But when you share my content a portion of the advertising revenue does come back to me so I can continue to create beautiful things for everybody to enjoy.
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