A difficult client, a fuming boss, a tight deadline – these are some of the many possible occasions that can make your stress levels soar while you are at work. Needless to say, to find a solution to your problem, being stressed out won’t help you move forward. You need to regain your calm, think clearly, define actionable steps and overcome the problem bit by bit.
Moreover, we all know that stress is essentially bad for us, and has damaging effects on our long term health. Keeping calm and carrying on is more than just a popular internet meme – it’s a skill we all should learn to master.
We are wired to react in a “fight or flight” way, but a grumpy person on the subway is simply not as life-threatening as an approaching lion in our prehistoric days. For this reason, we need to learn to control our reaction to stressful situations and adapt to our modern times that are filled to the brim with stress.
Whenever you are faced with a situation that can make your adrenaline and cortisol levels spike and your heart pound too quickly, there are a number of actions you can take to bring your stress levels down. None of these actions require more than 15 minutes, and most of them require a simple change in mindset or location, but all of these help you break out of the vicious circle of being faced with stress at work and reacting like a hamster on a wheel.
1. Go for a walk
If you can disappear from your cubicle for a few minutes, head outside and walk around the block. You’ll get some fresh air in your lungs and fresh thoughts in your mind. Did you know that Mandela used to go for a walk every morning to think through the upcoming day?
2. Listen to calming music
Pop your earphones, and listen to some calming music: classical music, new age, post rock – whatever brings you in that blissful state of relaxation.
3. Follow a short guided meditation
Turn your chair towards a window, or -if all else fails- hide in the bathroom for a few minutes, and listen to a guided meditation on your computer, smartphone or MP3 player. There are many smartphone apps that contain enjoyable guided meditations that can help you bring your zen back.
4. Watch pictures of kittens or puppies
You might think that watching internet memes of cute kittens is a waste of your time or a guilty pleasure, but there’s actually some benefit in watching these adorable young pets. Research suggest that watching kittens or puppies can reduce your stress levels.
5. Have a warm drink
Research suggests that we see other people as more sympathetic when we hold a warm drink as compared to when we hold a cold drink. Moreover, taking the time to get yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee can be that little bit of comfort you need during a difficult moment.
6. Do a few stretches to get your blood circulating
Refresh your thoughts by doing some quick physical activity. Check out a yoga sequence for your office to twist your spine, or do a few jumping jacks and wall push-ups. Any activity that breaks the rut of overthinking the problem that causes stress in the first place, will have a (temporary) positive effect.
7. Stop by the cubicle of a befriended coworker
Talk to a friend about the situation that upsets you, get a pat on your shoulder or hug when you need it, and feel that heavy weight getting relieved from your chest. A situation can look much less intimidating once you discussed it over with a trustee.
8. Watch your urge, and let it go
Zen masters teach us to sit through our discomfort, to simply watch our urge to start frantically running around, smile, and let it go. Don’t follow your monkey-mind or reptilian midbrain and blindly follow your first instinct. Instead, watch your urge to react then think if your reaction is correct and if this will bring you a step closer to the solution.
9. Take a time-out in a quiet room
If the general buzz in your office adds to your stress-levels, then seek out a quiet place (for example, an empty meeting room or your library) away from the situation and come back to your inner peace. Being away from a stressful environment of an office and enjoying a more peaceful location can do wonders to your stress-levels.
10. If you are pressed for time: take three deep breaths before reacting
If a reaction is expected from you right away, then allow yourself at least the time to take three breaths before acting or replying. Breathe deeply into your diaphragm to calm your mind and body. Singers, babies and yogis all know the benefit of abdominal breathing. Teach yourself this skill, as it offers an emergency time-out whenever and wherever you need it.