Stress can appear at any timeEveryday life presents challenges: the pressure of deadlines, a mountain of emails to climb and the relentless quest for new ideas have become understandably trying. The irony is that the more squeezed we feel, the harder it is to be productive.
Stress is a natural human response that comes from a challenging situation or from demands we place on ourselves. Sometimes stress is good – it drives us to get things done and live with purpose. However, if you experience too much of it and for too long, it can have a negative effect on your health.
So much of our time is spent at work. Incorporating simple relaxation techniques into the working day is a great way to avoid unwanted stress.
Trainer, Coach, Psychotherapist and Change Agent at Relationship Results, Paul McNiff, has many years’ experience working with business owners and professionals as well as with corporate teams.
He shares his five simplest and most effective tips for lifting your mood at work.
Your ability to identify stress in the moment and deal with it effectively is important to your happiness.
1. Follow Your Natural RhythmHumans aren’t designed to sit motionless and stare at a screen for 12 hours at a stretch. Spending all day bent like a question mark over your desk can have serious ramifications for your health – and your state of mind.
Our physical, mental and emotional systems need a refresh about every hour and a half. Otherwise the body will express its stress through drowsiness, irritability or hunger. If you push through, your brain’s “fight-or-flight” response will keep you going. That’s great for emergencies. But eventually you will feel exhausted and you won’t be nearly as capable of thinking clearly or creatively.
So if you feel yourself going into the red-alert zone, it’s time to take a break.
“Taking regular breaks to move your body will significantly reduce your levels of stress,” McNiff says. “It doesn’t have to be strenuous or time consuming. Even just five or so minutes of walking around, whether it’s around the office or taking a short stroll outside can help you to push the reset button and reduce the pressure that’s been building up.”
Set an alarm to sound every 90 minutes and take a walk around the block, rehydrate or change your focus by simply gazing out the window.
Step out for a walking meeting
For those moments when you just can’t seem to get away from your desk, McNiff suggests stretching. Many workplaces provide stretching suggestions to reduce stiffness and increase comfort at your desk, and stretching is also an excellent way to release tension in the body and mind.
You could even go one better and take a walking meeting – the perfect solution for a busy day. “With a walking meeting, instead of sitting in a meeting room, you walk with the other person (or people – a maximum of three is generally best) while having the meeting,” McNiff says.
“Naturally, some meetings are not suitable for walking because it can be hard to take a lot of notes while you’re walking. But where it is possible, walking meetings have been shown to improve creativity, which in turn helps to reduce stress levels.”
Take a stroll and get some fresh air with a walking meeting. It’s an effective way to stretch not only your legs but also your mind.
3. Ignore your alertsIt’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we’re faced with a lot to do. Many of us find ourselves jumping between tasks and feeling like we never actually finish anything, which can lead to feeling high levels of stress.
“While you’re focusing on each individual task, don’t allow yourself to become distracted or worried about the other tasks that you have to work on,” McNiff says.
“Accept that in that moment, the best thing you can do is give all of your attention to the task at hand so you can complete it. And when you complete that task, no matter how small it is, make a point of physically crossing it off the list or marking it as completed. Crossing things off your list can remind you that you’re achieving things and reduce your stress levels significantly.”
McNiff also suggests taking your email offline. “Every time we hear the sound of a new email coming in our curiosity is piqued and we become distracted from our work. And when we read the email, or even if we just check to see who it’s from, it can take up to 15 minutes before we get back to what we were doing previously,” McNiff says.
4. Find things to smile and laugh aboutIt is equally important to maintain a light and pleasant attitude at work. Even though it may appear simple, one way to reduce stress instantly is to smile.
Maintaining strong team bonds and a sense of fun with your colleagues is an excellent way to increase happiness levels at work. A funny joke or YouTube video can make a big difference to your mood, and a little laughter really does go a long way.
McNiff also offers a few techniques.
“Practise this: close your eyes and take a gentle breath in … then smile as you exhale gently,” he says. “You could imagine being somewhere that you’d love to be, such as holidaying at a resort or laughing around a table with a group of friends. Doing this a few times can actually calm your mind and your body, and reduce your stress levels quickly.”
A funny joke or YouTube video can make a big difference in lifting your mood - a little laughter goes a long way.
5. Slow down and take a deep breath
The benefits of mindfulness in the workplace are well documented. But if you don’t have the space to bust out your Zafu cushion and meditate in the office, there are simple techniques you can use.
“When you’re feeling stressed, breathing gently, slowly and a little deeper in your body can calm your mind and quickly reduce the level of stress that you’re feeling,” McNiff says.
He elaborates on one of his best breathing techniques, the “Balloon 5585”.
“Sit in a relaxed position and imagine a small balloon is replacing your stomach just behind and under your belly button,” McNiff says. “Breathe in gently through your nose to the count of five and, as you do, imagine that the balloon is gently expanding; hold that breath for a count of five.
“Then exhale gently for a count of eight and, as you do, imagine the air being released gently back out of the balloon and the balloon returning to its deflated state. Then pause for a count of five before repeating the cycle.
“By doing this, you will allow your body to reach a state of calm, which will not only reduce your stress levels, but will also have significant benefits for your productivity.