Stress is one of the top productivity-busters — and one of the most insidious for couch warriors and solo artists. Why insidious? Because it’s so ubiquitous – we all experience it, daily. When you’re the only one on the hook for everything, it’s hard not to feel stressed out.
But stress – especially when it’s arising out of the awareness of So Much Crap on your list – can be managed effectively. And it ought to be addressed quickly when it pops up – otherwise you risk losing an entire day feeling like a stress puppy, because you just couldn’t manage to focus on any one thing long enough to actually get it DONE.
When flavored coffee crystals won’t cut it, and bubble baths take more time than you have available, try the following tactics to help bust your stress before it busts your productivity. They work, and best of all – they all take five minutes or less.
#1: Change Your Physical State
The first thing you should do when you recognize the symptoms of stress are interfering with your planned work is to change your physical state.
What do I mean by this?
I mean MOVE. Get active. Get OUT of the chair or off the sofa and do something.
One of the best ways to change your physical state for the purpose of de-stressing? Taking a walk outside for five minutes. Seriously – just walk around the exterior of your home.
If you want to increase the benefits of this tactic, then get your heart rate up. Walk quickly around your house. Do jumping jacks. Studies show that just two minutes of heart-rate-elevating physical activity like this will increase the production of neurotransmitters, producing a nice, stress-busting buzz of serotonin and dopamine.
Other good options include yoga, tai chi, and gentle stretches.
#2: Engage Your Nose
Peppermint oil has been shown to increase alertness and the ability to focus in some studies. Other studies show that lavender essential oils can help reduce physical and emotional stress.
My own experience with clients and with myself suggests that any scent you’re drawn to in a positive way can help you overcome and manage distracting stress.
Simply open the bottle and take a good whiff, or mix with a gentle base oil like jojoba or olive oil and dab on your pulse points and beneath your nostrils. Sit and breathe deeply for a few minutes.
#3 Warm Up Your Hands and Feet
One physiological change that occurs when stress starts generating fear and anxiety is that our outer extremities experience a decreased blood flow. That can make our feet and hands feel cold.
Simply thinking warm thoughts can help reverse this effect.
But for a bigger kick, toss some socks in the dryer on high for four minutes, then put them on. Run your hands under warm water, or heat up a rice pack in the microwave and then hold it and wrap it around your hands for 3 minutes.
#4: Eat to Increase Serotonin
The good kind of carbs – the whole grain, complex carbs, without added refined sugar – can also increase production of serotonin.
So if it’s lunch or snack time, reach for a whole grain English muffin, or a few cups of air-popped popcorn. About 30 grams worth of complex carbs will boost your serotonin levels.
#5: Take a Quick Breather
Sometimes, de-stressing is as simple as in-and-out — your breath, that is.
In fact, breath-counting is one of the simplest and most effective ways to meditate.
And even better: you don’t have to sit in lotus position breathing in incense smoke for an hour at a time to see the benefits of meditation. Even a few minutes can be valuable, if they’re quality minutes.
A very simple breath meditation practice can work wonders to calm down your body’s stress response and get you back to work. Here’s one way to do it:
- Sit in a chair, feet on the floor or cross-legged if you prefer. Keep your spine straight (support it with pillows if need be).
- Close your eyes.
- Begin counting your breath at a slow, steady pace. Silently, count the inhale (i.e., inhale – “1, 2, 3, 4”) and the exhale.
- Don’t try to change anything for the first two minutes – just count how long each inhale and each exhale take, using the same approximate ‘beat’ for counting.
- On minute three, gently (don’t force this) add two beats to each exhale, and keep the inhale about the same. In other words, if you’d been breathing in and out about 4 seconds for each inhale and each exhale, then on minute three you’d keep the inhale at 4 seconds but take 6 seconds for each exhale.
- Do this for two minutes.
- At the top of minute five, return to normal breathing but try to slow down your breaths a bit for one minute.
- Open your eyes and change your physical posture (i.e., get up, walk around, stretch gently).
#6: Check Your Posture
Before you get back to work, take a minute to do a quick body scan and check your posture.
When we’re super-stressed (or sometimes even just moderately stressed), our bodies start to contract and mirror that stress in our muscular system. Most often, that will be reflected in the shoulders, upper back, neck, and jaw.
To get back on track, do this simple realignment exercise sitting in your chair:
- Relax your neck and bobble your head lightly (like a bobble-head doll).
- Bring your head back into alignment (chances are, it’ll be too far forward in relation to your neck).
- Open your jaw as wide as you can (folks with TMJ disorder might want to skip this part) and close it a few times.
- Roll your shoulders back twice, then forward twice, then back once more.
- Open up your chest by bringing your shoulder blades closer together.
- Scan your spine in relation to your hips – is it square and center between your sitz bones? If not, readjust your posture.
Now you’re ready to get back to work!
What’s Your Favorite Quick De-Stresser?
Did I miss one that works for you? Share it in the comments!