Friday, February 01, 2008

Stress Relief at Work: It's as Easy as 1-2-3

Stress at work presents a significant challenge because you have very little control over the environment. Stressors can come at you from a variety of sources, including the people you work with, your physical office setup, and the type of work you do. Short of changing jobs (and probably finding yourself in a similar situation), avoiding everyday stress at the office just isn't possible.

So, how do you cope when you feel like you're at the end of your stress-at-work rope? It's easy. Just incorporate these three simple strategies into your work week.

1. Take a Walk

One of the most basic strategies for stress relief is physical exercise. But you don't need to go out all for exercise to be effective against work stress. A brisk 20-30 minute walk up the street or around the parking lot will work wonders for relieving a stressed out state of mind. When walking, avoid planning your next task. Instead, allow your mind to relax and your thoughts to float by like the clouds in the wind. When your walk is finished, take a few deep belly breaths and perform a few stretches. You should feel relaxed and re-energized. Oh, and before heading back to your desk, grab a tall glass of clean, fresh water to hydrate your body's cells.

2. Catch a Catnap

Power napping is another strategy that provides almost instant stress relief at work. But the key is to not sleep too long or you'll end up feeling worse instead of better. On your lunch or afternoon break, slip into a quiet conference room or out to your car. (Make sure you won't be disturbed.) Set the timer on your cell phone for 15-20 minutes. Sit back, close your eyes and allow your mind to go blank. If you have trouble stopping your thoughts, try focusing on a single word or simple phrase, such as "Relax," or "I am relaxed." The point is to doze off just long enough to give your mind and body a much-needed mini-nap. But if you aren't able to fall asleep, the short meditative break will be almost as refreshing. Give yourself a few minutes to snap back to reality before heading back to your desk.

3. Stay Away from Stimulants

When you experience stress at work, it's common to reach for an extra cup of coffee, a diet soda or a candy bar as a pick-me-up. But those quick fixes are doing your body - and stress level - more harm than good. The stimulant effects of caffeine, chocolate and sugar increase your heart rate and cause your muscles to contract. They actually add a heaping helping of tension onto your body before they wear off with a crash. Avoid artificial energy bursts by preparing healthy snacks to take to work and choosing bottled water, caffeine free herbal tea or vegetable juice as your drinks of choice. By avoiding caffeine throughout the day you may even sleep better, which allows your body to recuperate from the day's many stresses and prepare for the next round of stress at work.

Patty Harder is the founder of 5 Minute Self-Help and the author of "Less-Stressed NOW! Your Complete Guide to Managing Stress, Beating the Blues, and Waking Up Happier Every Day." Want more ways to manage your stress? Visit

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