More than half of employees say workplace stress makes it difficult to focus on tasks, according to a 2012 study by ComPsych Corp., an employee-assistance program provider based in Chicago.
One-fifth of survey respondents said stress makes them commit errors and miss deadlines. Fourteen percent missed work and 15 percent said work relationships suffered.
Workers are more productive when they take breaks, and 10 minutes here and there is enough time to engage in some surprisingly effective stress reducers, like gazing at a picture on the ceiling or pretending to morph into a flower or shrub.
“No one can work continuously. You will get fatigued, your mind will wander and you will make mistakes,” says psychiatrist Dr. David Sack, president and CEO of Elements Behavioral Health in Long Beach, Calif. “If you have been grinding along at your desk for two hours, stop. Stand up. Leave your desk.”
Or don’t, because several stress-busting activities and exercises can be performed right in your swivel chair, though it’s good to step away from your workstation on occasion.
The stress busters here can be performed in a small amount of time, with immediate results.
Watch kooky cat videos, or whatever strikes you as laugh-out-loud funny. Stress constricts the arteries by as much as 35 percent, and laughter opens them up again for increased blood flow, says Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of The Stress Institute in Atlanta.
Pop in a stick of gum. The act of chewing increases blood flow to the brain, which may improve brain function, including concentration and memory, Hall says. Chewing gum after meals can also prevent heartburn symptoms by neutralizing acid.
Keep your chin up — for at least 10 seconds. Mount a picture of something soothing, like a nature scene or family photo, on the ceiling above your chair, and tilt your head back a few times a day to gaze at it for 10 seconds. Drop your chin to your chest, hold for 10 seconds, and look to one side and then the other. “These are simple yoga poses that will stretch and relax tight muscles,” Hall says.
Kick off your shoes. “Rubbing your bare feet on the floor stimulates over 200,000 nerve endings, one of the densest concentrations on the body,” Hall says. “Our nerve-dense soles are our tactile contact with the physical world, and without direct contact we lose equilibrium and become disoriented.”
Don’t go nuts — eat them instead. Nuts, seeds, dairy products, legumes, soy products, tuna and turkey all contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body produce the brain chemical serotonin, “which plays an important role in both healthy sleep and mood,” Sack says.
Hug a coworker. “There are incredible benefits to hugging someone. Your blood pressure decreases and your body produces endorphins and oxytocin, a bonding hormone that makes people feel secure and trusting,” says Hall, citing a University of Wisconsin study in which presentation givers who hugged their moms afterward experienced decreases in the stress hormone cortisol. Coworkers not touchy-feely? Meet your mom or bestie for a lunchtime embrace.
Bite your Bic. A 2002 study found that volunteers who were instructed to hold a pencil in their teeth, and thus were able to smile, rated cartoons as funnier than volunteers who pursed the pencil between their lips. The findings build on earlier research concluding that volunteers instructed to make certain faces experienced involuntary biological changes similar to those caused by emotions. The point is not to chew up your pen or pencil, but to smile.
Make like a monk and chant. A London study of monks in 2008 found that chanting lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Earlier studies showed chanting reduces anxiety and depression and increases performance hormone levels.
Become one with nature. “Go outside and find a tree, a flower or a shrub, and while you’re looking at it, try to imagine that you are that thing,” says Dr. Matthew Edlund, director of the Center for Circadian Medicine in Sarasota, Fla. “It’s a game of focus. If people can focus on something outside of themselves, they will usually feel less stressed.”
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