During the week, we spend the majority of our waking time at work. And with our lives becoming increasingly busy, it can be difficult to find the time to check in with our physical and mental health. In fact, a recent study into the mental health of corporate Australia indicates one in three employees identify with some form of mental illness (with 33% of those suffering from anxiety).
But, working towards better mental health doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time or money. In fact, finding simple ways to check in throughout your daily routine will prove more effective and sustainable in the long term. To get you started, we’re here to share five simple strategies to help combat anxiety at the office. And the best bit? You won’t even have to leave your desk to give them a go!
1. Take a breath
When we feel busy and all over the place, finding an anchor to ground our attention is crucial. And what better anchor to choose than the breath. No matter how overwhelmed we might feel, a constant rhythm of inhales and exhales are taking place without us even realising.
Next time you’re feeling the pangs of anxiety strike, consider the quality of your breath. Does your chest feel tight? Are you inhales short and shallow? Is the pace of your breath fast and frantic? One of the simplest ways to calm your nervous system is to intentionally slow down and deepen the breath.
Try this calming breath routine: take a long, slow inhale through your nose (try to expand and fill your belly), then hold for a count of three, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Keep repeating this as many times as you need, and experiment with the length and pace of inhales and exhales to welcome a state of calm, clarity and focus.
2. Tune into calming tracks
The chatter of co-workers and the noise of loud conversation can be a harmful distraction at work. Particularly for those working in open-plan offices, overhearing rushed instructions and urgent phone calls can add to our own anxieties and create an atmosphere of hostility and tension.
If you’re finding yourself negatively influenced by those around you, this next tip could be a perfect solution. Next time you find yourself falling down an anxious rabbit hole, grab your headphones and press play on a playlist of soothing, relaxing music. Start by tuning into ‘Weightless’, a song that’s earned the title of the ‘world’s most relaxing song’, or head to your favorite streaming platform to find curated playlists designed to alleviate anxiety, reduce stress and boost feelings of serenity and calm.
3. Try progressive muscle relaxation
When anxiety strikes, it pulls us out of the here and now. We’re ruminating about what happened yesterday and catastrophising about what the next hours or even days have in store. We’re physically present while our mind is racing off and worrying about the past and the future. Essentially, anxiety robs us of our ability to enjoy each moment as it comes.
A great desk-friendly technique to bring you back into the present is progressive muscle relaxation. In a nutshell, these tiny movements help you to systematically tense and relax key muscle groups to promote a sense of relaxation and calm. By checking in with your physical self, you’ll be more likely to focus on the task at hand rather than getting swept away by anxious thoughts.
Start by slowing down and focusing on your breath to give yourself permission to unwind. Next, select the first muscle group you’d like to work on. A good strategy is to move from head to toe, ensuring all parts of the body are addressed. Simply tense each muscle group for 5 seconds, then exhale and complete relax for 10 seconds. Repeat this across your entire body for best results.
4. Write it down
It can be hard to think clearly when we’re drowning in anxious thoughts. When our worries are swimming around in our head, problems seem impossible to solve and our mood can rapidly drop due to feelings of helplessness, fear, and stress.
Try to see your situation with fresh eyes, by grabbing a pen and paper. Start jotting down the thoughts you are experiencing, and try to write freely and without self-judgment. The goal here is to write down your anxieties to start to uncover the root causes and emotions behind these feelings.
Once you have it all down on paper, read over the list and consider what reasoning errors might be swaying your thoughts. Are you speculating about what impression your new work colleagues have of you? Maybe you’re ruminating about a small error you make in last week’s team meeting? Or perhaps you are putting too much pressure on yourself to finish your entire to-do list perfectly?
This simple act of writing down your thoughts can be done in just a few minutes at your desk and can be a powerful technique to help you see your situation more clearly to avoid dwelling on negative stresses and thoughts.
5. Tidy your workspace
Take a second to look around your desk. What do you see in front of you? Are there piles of papers and notebooks covered in sticky notes? Do you have a collection of coffee mugs waiting to be washed? And what does your computer’s desktop look like?
When we are surrounded by chaos and clutter, it’s no wonder we aren’t able to focus on the task at hand. To get you back on track, set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of each day to tidy your space. Start by filing away paperwork and print outs into organised folders, move unnecessary stationery into desk drawers and remove any food containers or mugs hanging around your desk.
The same goes for your virtual workspace, too! If your desktop is a sea of unfiled documents, spend some time sorting these away into clearly labelled folders. Not only will these be easy to find in the future, but this will also help promote a sense of calmness and control to help you get through your to-do list faster.
This article originally appeared on A Girl in Progress.