Take a Breather – 4 Ways to Destress at Work
BY CAST TEAM
03 • 06 • 2018
Let’s face it – everyone gets stressed out from time to time at work. Even if you love your job and have amazing coworkers, factors like project deadlines, budget meetings, an unsatisfied client, being late to the office due to traffic, or not getting enough sleep the night before can all lead to stress. Too much stress can be dangerous to your health and can cause a decline in workplace productivity. According to Forbes Magazine, “Employees suffering from high stress levels have lower engagement, are less productive and have higher absenteeism levels than those not working under excessive pressure.” While care should be taken to try and keep stress levels low, the fact of the matter is that stress will never completely go away. What can change, however, is our response to stress, and how we can mentally and physically strengthen ourselves to move towards a concept known as ‘antifragility,’ developed by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Whereas the term fragility conjures to mind words like ‘flimsy,’ ‘delicate,’ and ‘insubstantiality’ – all words that suggest something wouldn’t hold up under stress - antifragility is just the opposite: a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors.
Part of becoming more capable at handling stress, and therefore becoming more productive, creative and engaged, is learning how to reduce your stress level at work. Many examples of stress are actually gross overreactions to a given situation, and by learning to be more calm and mindful, we can differentiate between what is truly worthy of the sympathetic nervous system fight-or-flight response and what is not. Jayme Sweere, Yoga Therapist, MBA Strategic Sustainable Development Specialty, Yoga Teacher Trainer and Personal Trainer with Stressed Out Humans, offers four practical and effective methods for de-stressing in your workspace.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘take a deep breath’ in response to a stressful situation – while it may seem a bit cliché, there truly is science behind taking a deep breath to calm yourself. “Deep diaphragmatic breathing helps to calm the nervous system,” said Jayme. Diaphragmatic breathing is achieved by contracting your diaphragm muscle (located horizontally between your thoracic cavity and your abdominal cavity) during breathing, and fully utilizing your dome shaped diaphragm. This action will stimulate your ‘vagus nerve,’ which in turn activates your parasympathetic nervous system’s rest-and-digest response. The next time you find yourself agitated from a disagreement with a coworker, a surprise deadline, or another workplace stressor, try following these steps from Jayme for diaphragmatic breathing:
- Sit up tall in your desk chair
- Breathe through your nose, bringing your breath in and down, allowing your abdomen to expand on all sides as you inhale
- On the exhale, relax and feel your breath passively move out through your nose
Recent studies have shown that too much sitting is potentially linked to anxiety. Since many jobs often lend themselves to a certain amount of sedentary time, it’s important for your mental and physical health to remember to get up and move several times throughout the workday. Many workplaces, like Cast Coworkspace in Springfield, MO and Bentonville, AR, are creating open office environments that encourage movement and collaboration among their shared office space residents. Even if your workspace is limited, you can still execute Jayme’s two-minute yoga break for some cramped muscle relief:
- Stand up tall, interlace your fingers behind you, and take about a two-foot step back, keeping your feet hip distance apart and pointing forward.
- Press into your feet, letting yourself feel grounded and stable. Keep your back leg straight and your heel grounded. Bring your torso slightly forward to be an extension of your back leg, making sure the back of your head is even with the tail bone, and your chin is slightly tucked. Feel your spine extending as you ease into the pose.
- Bend your front leg and come into a slight lunge, being sure to keep your knee behind your front toes, until you feel a stretching sensation in your front hip and calf of the back extended leg.
- Reach your interlaced knuckles up off of your lower back and down (at the same angle as your back leg) until you sense a stretch in your chest and the tops of your shoulders. Hold still and breath in and down for five long, deep, slow breaths. Then switch sides.
Sense and Be Present
Even if you’re physically sitting at your computer, you may not necessarily ‘be there.’ In times of stress, it’s easy to let your mind wander to everything that could go, or is going, wrong. Sometimes the mind goes to a different place entirely to cope with stress – such as the beach or a mountain retreat. While there is nothing wrong with a bit of daydreaming about where to spend an upcoming vacation, if you find yourself doing this all the time, you may want to stop and come back to the present. “Take in whatever information your senses are giving you,” said Jayme, “smell the air, sense the weight of your body on your chair, hear the noises in the room or play a favorite song and listen mindfully. Look outside the office for light beams or something pleasing to your eyes, bring your tongue to taste the roof of your mouth or chew a piece of gum, intentionally tasting the flavor. With some time and practice, you will find the sensory input that gets you out of your stressed thought patterns.” Many people will brighten up their workspace with indoor plants, look at a photo of a loved one, diffuse a calming essential oil such as lavender or utilize a stress ball to help bring their senses back to the present.
Connect with Others
Humans are social creatures. We don’t seek out meaningful relationships on a whim – it’s hard wired into us. According to Psychology Today, “Psychologists find that human beings have fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships.” If we are deprived of those desired social interactions, we get lonely – and loneliness is stressful. Connecting with your coworking team at the office and reaching out with gratitude can help you decompress when you’re stressed out, and reassure you that you aren’t alone. “Allow your attention to take in the people around you and bring to mind something you are grateful for in three to five of those people,” advised Jayme. “Pick one or two people and tell them what you appreciate about them. Practice this every time you’re feeling overwhelmed and watch it transform your environment both inwardly and outwardly!”
Using these techniques to make your mental and physical health a priority at work will help you destress and will have lasting benefits on your mood. By encouraging your coworking team to also engage in these practices, you’ll be fostering a positive work environment, better collaboration and increased productivity levels. “With time and practice,” said Jayme, “these techniques will literally change your mind!”
Written by Klaire Howerton
Photos via Jes Scott