There’s nothing like a bit of pressure to focus the mind and get stuff done, right? Stress is not a bad thing in itself. It can give you a sense of motivation and urgency and make you more productive. However, when stress at work is your daily reality rather than the exception, the ‘benefits’ disappear all too quickly. The effects of ‘bad stress’ can leave you fractured and anxious, and can even make you sick.
If you’re feeling super stressed as you’re reading this right now, stop what you’re doing and try one of these 5 stress-busting exercises to feel an immediate difference:
1. Mindful breathing
Simple but effective, breathing is one of the best ways to address physical and mental stress. It’s an automatic bodily process – we all have to breathe – but we can control the speed and depth of our breathing, which is the bit that affects our mental wellbeing.
Before you start a new task, take just 30 seconds and concentrate on slow, deep breathing. Not only will it make you calmer, slow your heart rate and blood pressure, mindful breathing has a tendency to straighten your posture too.
If you have a few more minutes to spare, here are some simple instructions on how to practice mindful breathing.
2. Stretching at the desk
Excess stress can be felt physically in the body, typically across the neck and shoulders, in the back and stomach. If you’re sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day, your posture is bound to tense up. Have you had your workstation ergonomically assessed to make sure that you’re sitting properly, with a professional and fully adjustable office chair, and the monitor positioned directly in a straight line in front of you? If not, now is the time to ask your HR manager.
For immediate relief, here are 10 simple stretches to help you de-stress at the desk right now. Do them several times each day for maximum relief.
3. The here and now
Every office has them – unique sounds that happen regularly but randomly. It could be the front door opening/closing, the same dog always barking outside, the sound of the kettle in the kitchen, or something else.
Identify one of these sounds and use it as a trigger to pull you back into the present moment when your mind is lost in work. Just take a few seconds to stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and remind yourself of your physical surroundings and how your body feels – then go back to your task. Get into the habit of punctuating you working day with these ‘little moments of zen’ and you will feel less stressed.
4. Switch off notifications
Multitasking is highly overrated; research is now showing that it doesn’t make you more productive nor does it help you to produce better work. On the contrary, focused single-tasking is a much better, less stressful way to go.
Turn off everything that could distract you audibly and/or visually, including emails, mobile phone, social media notifications etc, to allow you to concentrate on the task in hand for, say, 25 minutes without interruption. Then take a few minutes’ break before your next 25 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that’s been proven to lower stress and increase productivity.
5. Step outside at least once a day
A quick-fire way to destress is to step away from the desk, grab a few minutes and go outside. Do this at least once a day, come rain or shine. Getting away from artificial lighting and into some fresh air can be a great way to re-energize both body and mind.
If you have time, move your body and go for a walk – even 5 minutes is better than nothing. If you’re lucky to have some nature around you – a lawned garden or public park perhaps – take full advantage and spend your lunchtime there to recharge your batteries. You’ll feel calmer and more focused when you return to your desk.
As much as 1/3 of British workers regularly experience stress, depression or anxiety, according to a recent survey. HR departments and business managers increasingly recognize the negative impact that stress can have on their employees’ mental and physical health. Of course, they’re also concerned about the business performance implications that result from lower productivity and longer-term sickness absence as a consequence of stress.
For those who don’t have any in-house resources, many external training providers offer communications and people skills including stress management courses such as this one from iManage Performance, which can be hugely beneficial for all concerned.
Clearly, being able to identify and manage stress successfully in the workplace can have a transformative effect on employees, and it is encouraging to see that many employers now have robust stress management initiatives and easily accessible policies in place to help their staff cope.
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