7 quick ways to “De-stress” during the work day without exercising or unplugging your phone
April 26, 2016
On a discussion panel last week of high performing realtors, I got the question “How do you get away and get a break in the day when things get too intense?” Of course the obvious answers are “Turn off your phone. Go to the gym. Go talk a walk. Go for a run etc.”
They are my go to answers too. But in thinking about it more, they aren’t the best answers. They ARE the best ideas but, like most of us have experienced, they aren’t always very realistic. Plus, everyone knows about them already.
For most of us who are successful in things like consulting, law, real estate, small business, or financial services we don’t turn off our phones. We just don't. Plus, as a parent, I wouldn’t want to be unreachable to my child’s care givers.
And, even if you remember your gym clothes you may not have time to fight traffic both ways AND sneak in a work out before your next appointment. Plus, always having the motivation isn’t realistic, and some (sadly misguided) people just don’t like the gym.
So, that question inspired me to come up with a list of realistic, quick ideas that everyone can do any time.
If you can, shut off your phone when you are taking a break. But if you can’t, you can’t. Do remove all your social media apps though (it just takes a second to take them on and off). Resist the urge to engage with your device unless absolutely necessary. Take or make a call. Respond to a text if you need to. But don’t use social media or games to try to relax. It might bring you a moment of reprieve (or not, it’s election season and Facebook is real excited about it) but it doesn't give you deep, authentic neurological relief. In fact, it’s a set-back. You are a successful, but probably over extended professional. You need maximum mental/emotional/physical recharge in minimal time.
And you don’t need someone pointing out you should have gone to the gym. But, to mentally “get away” you need to move your body. At least a little. And if the movement is bi-lateral (arms or legs crossing over the mid-line), that is going to be the most efficient way to recharge your brain.
The key is this: To get that mental and emotional reprieve you have to truly settle your “middle brain” which controls your emotions. And to get your brain back into productive, energized mode you need to ENGAGE your prefrontal cortex which controls your executive function.
Even if you are a gym fiend, you should still be practicing the list below. Working out is one of the best things you can do for your body and brain. But it won’t off set long hours of sitting. If you are a teacher, don't be so quick to say this doesn't apply to you. You run your buns off, but what about their students? Where are they at mentally and emotionally? You can't send them on a run or to the gym. But you can do these things.
1. Stand Up
When you sit, calorie burning drops to 1 per hour. One. Uno. And electrical impulses to your legs stop. And because you are not moving blood flow and oxygen to your brain decrease, making you less able to reason, remember, and process. And, as you probably already guessed based on that, you are ripe for feeling frustration, tension, and stress. Your “middle brain” that controls your stress responses can still work pretty well with less blood flow and oxygen. In fact, that is its call to action. Sitting also is bad for your muscular/skeletal system and all systems actually, for many, many reasons. So, up. Off that booty.
Just standing up puts you in a better mental place and makes you better able to reason, focus, and manage your emotions. Standing desks or active workstations are ideal. But if you don’t have one just get on your feet and look around. I bet there is somewhere you can work standing for a bit now. And it increases your energy so you can have a better work/life balance without cutting down on work! BONUS.
2. Take a Walk
Now, if you want take standing to the next level, walking is neurologically even better than standing. And walking in nature is even better than just walking. (Though science isn’t yet exactly sure WHY nature helps. But it does.) Walk in place if you can’t even walk a hallway. But walking is just about the most high impact activity you can do to stimulate your prefrontal cortex. That is why you often get ideas when you take a walk. It also is your best weapon against depression and obesity. So move those feet. And to get some bi-lateral movement, criss-cross them a few times while you are at it. If you are the uninhibited type and have a decent pelvic floor, jump criss-crossing them back and forth alternating which side is in front.
Do this standing if you can, by the way. Now, just being honest, coloring does nothing for me personally. But, there is a reason coloring is wildly gaining popularity with adults. It stimulates your Vegas nerve to tell your prefrontal cortex “all is well” and you’ll get that authentic mental break you need to keep going. There are lovely adult coloring books full of delicately designed profanities. That can be extra fun and cathartic. Just keep some markers or colored pencils and a coloring book at your desk. Do it for a couple minutes standing up through-out the day (ideally every 20 minutes if possible).
Now, if you are anything like me, your children ruin what is otherwise a very neurologically soothing activity. (Seriously, we all know where the Lego Movie inspiration came from. If you secretly identified with President Business, it’s OK.)
Legos are not only great fun, they are a great way to re-engage your prefrontal cortex and get that soothing relief and energy you need to get back in and tackle your work. And you get to do it all by yourself! Keep your own Lego stash at your workstation. Sort them, build creatively, or just zone out as you handle them, and see what happens. Do this in some kind of prone or upright position if you can. (There is a reason your kids often instinctively stand or lay down when they are getting into their Legos). Legos are a little pricey. My goal with this blog was to keep it to things that have no barriers at all. But it might be worth the investment to treat yourself if you can. Plus, everyone will think you are cool.
Also, because of how they enhance productivity, creativity, and office harmony they are a good investment for any employer. The probably just haven’t thought of it. Ask them and explain the benefits. The return on the investment of few pub height tables and Legos is pretty huge. Have a meeting around them. See the difference.
5. Non-drying modeling clay
Now I'm not talking about Pinterest worthy creations like turkey thanksgiving ear rings or something. I am talking about squishing it through your hands and maybe making a Minion or a pizza if you are feeling fancy. It is about the exercise of using it that soothes you. Don't ruin it trying to make something pretty unless that really feeds you. This can be inexpensively purchased at any school supply store and stored easily in your work station. It has a similar effect to Legos but can be more soothing to work through your hands and come up with fun (and appropriate) designs. There are a lot of nerve endings in your finger-tips. You can really get your brain under control by working something soothing like clay through them. And it is cheaper and takes up less space than Legos.
6. Laugh. Hard.
Laughter will put your brain and body right back on track. Have something you can pull to the front of your mind that never fails to make you laugh. A scene from a movie, a smart mouthed comment, a time someone passed gas at Church or on a first date. It doesn’t matter. As long as it makes you laugh, that will shake you right back on track and have you feeling great. You’ll be all ready to make that next call, write that next blog, or face that angry client with calm dignity and true empathy.
Doing just a few minutes of bi-lateral stretching of your arms, legs, and neck, can do wonders for your energy and mental health. Pinterest is a treasure trove of stretches you can do while working