Friends and colleagues who say “You look really stressed” mean well. Stress can lead to all sorts of mental and physical health problems, so they’re really just looking out for you.
But what you tend to hear is “Wow, you look BAD!” Not helpful. And, then comes the advice:
You should take up yoga.
Go home and take a nice, long bath.
Why don’t you schedule some time off?
Again, the intentions are good…but really? You’re already putting out 19 different fires. When are you going to find time for yoga and baths? And, unless you can run far, far away and never open your inbox again, time away from the office seems like it will only make things worse.
You need practical stress-reducers. Things you can do at the office in-between meetings and calls. In less than five minutes. We’ve got three solid ideas.
1. Box Breathing
People will tell you to “just breathe” during times of stress, and it’s like “Duh. Of course I’m going to breathe.”
I think the more helpful version of that particular piece of advice is “breathe intentionally.” One way to do this is through a technique called “box breathing.” I first learned this in a yoga class, but I recently used it on a plane during turbulence. I’m a nervous passenger and always get sweaty and tense during bumpy weather. It helped me relax and gave me something else to do besides grip the armrest and freak out about plummeting to my death.
Focused breathing exercises can calm your nervous system and steady your heart rate. So, the next time you find your shoulders hiked up around your ears, take a few minutes (as few as 2-3 minutes can make an impact) and follow this breathing pattern:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold your inhale for a count of 4
- Exhale for a count of 4
- Hold your exhale for a count of 4
Bonus points if can close your eyes, but it’s not necessary. You can easily do this at your desk without anyone noticing.
2. Positive Visualization
Sports psychologists have been onto this for years. Athletes of all types, from high school to professional levels, will often mentally “rehearse” plays, routines or entire games before a big game or meet. Seeing themselves performing well builds confidence and mentally prepares them for competition.
Try using positive visualization before a presentation or potentially stressful meeting with your boss. You can do it during your commute or during a coffee run. See yourself navigating the meeting with ease and making a great impression. At the conclusion of your presentation everyone gives you a standing ovation and throws confetti! (Hey, it’s your visualization.)
This can work for interpersonal challenges too. Is there someone at the office who consistently pushes your buttons? Envision yourself calmly collaborating with that person. Maybe in your mental rehearsal the two of you work together to come up with a great idea that your boss loves. You obviously can’t control someone else’s actions, but you can control how you respond to a situation. And, by training yourself to remain calm, you may potentially steer the relationship towards more productive territory.
3. Cardio Burst
You know how the saying goes: “You’re one workout away from a good mood.” But what do you do when your blood pressure’s skyrocketed and it’s only 2 p.m.? (And you don’t work in a gym.)
When a full sweat session just isn’t going to happen, try sneaking away for a 3-5 minute “cardio burst.” A short but intense micro workout will get your blood pumping and help you shake off some of the built up tension.
You can do any of the following in an empty conference room, stairwell or oversized bathroom stall without getting too sweaty and disheveled:
- 100 forward or side lunges, as fast as possible
- 100 squats, as fast as possible
- Wall push-ups – as many reps as possible in 2 minutes
- Wall mountain climbers – as many reps as possible in 2 minutes
- “Stadiums” – start at the bottom of your building’s stairwell. Run up 1 flight, walk back down to the ground level. Run up 2 flights, walk back down to the ground level, and so on.
Are any of these tactics long–term solutions for stress? No. If stress plagues you for extended stretches of time or gets worse, it’s important to get to the root cause and fix it. But these quick-fixes can help you momentarily gain control of your emotions and change the way you react to stress. At least until you can book that one way ticket to the Caribbean.
What are your favorite stress management tips?