Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Stress isn’t something we can avoid if we want to succeed. It will happen; what makes us successful is learning how to manage it.
“Resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure,” happiness experts Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan wrote last year.
That makes sense; we spend most of our lives at work, and if it’s nonstop stress during those hours, then our entire existence is colored by it and our personalities could change for the worse.
Here are some things you can do inside and outside the office to be a more relaxed person.
When you’re worrying about the zillions of things you have you have to finish by the end of the work day, try using mindfulness to help you stay focused in the moment, and on the task at hand.
In this 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter wrote about a 10-minute mindfulness exercise that you can use when you get to work in the morning,
“Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale; inhale; exhale. To help your focus stay on your breathing, count silently at each exhalation. Any time you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath. Most important, allow yourself to enjoy these minutes. Throughout the rest of the day, other people and competing urgencies will fight for your attention. But for these 10 minutes, your attention is all your own,” they wrote.
Jason Marsh, director of programs for the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, told the Greater Good Science Center about how mindfulness benefits you at work, including promoting empathy and building resilience and positive emotions.
Sometimes it’s best to stretch it out. Yoga can literally loosen you up at work, and more companies are encouraging it as a result.
New York Times reporter David Gelles wrote about the transformative effects of meditation and yoga programs on employees at insurance company Aetna, which were introduced by CEO Mark T. Bertolini. Employees who took at least one yoga class gained an average of 62 minutes of productivity per week and benefitted from a 28% reduction in stress levels. Even if you’re not flexible,
Greatist reported in 2015 that software company SAS has offered employees access to “free healthy-living seminars, and a “recreational and fitness center with access to yoga and massage studios,” among other perks. Online medical care scheduling service Zocdoc had “free in-office yoga classes each week.”
The Huffington Post even made a list of 5 office-friendly yoga poses, like the “Seated Backbend,” “Wrist Release,” and “Seated Twist.”
Turn your YouTube to nature
If you work in an open office environment, you may find it difficult to focus— but sounds of the outside world might just do the trick. Embrace the outdoors.
A 2015 study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found that science backs the importance of a walk outside for “ability to concentrate and increasing overall worker satisfaction.”
Dr. Jonas Braasch, an associate professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a co-author of the 2015 study, told the Huffington Post about the impact natural noises can have in restoring our cognitive abilities — so even if you lose focus, you can regain it with some nature sounds.
Even if you’re stuck inside under fluorescent lighting and low ceilings, there’s nothing like the sound of rain. YouTube has a variety of options, including this long, soothing soundscape of wind through the silent Arctic and this surprisingly soothing spa-like run of plinky piano music over burbling water. Try listening to videos of various nature sounds online to get calm during the day, or downloading an app like Brainwave that plays soothing nature sounds.
Do some improv
Theater skills can also help you learn how to loosen up in the office. Rebecca Waber of innovation and strategy consulting firm Innosight told Forbes about how starting to take improv classes “for fun” made her presentation style better.
“You need to be comfortable not only with objective facts but with emotion and expressiveness, and the emotional side of decisions and organizational dynamics is critically important to successful interactions…It’s not necessarily easy for everyone to do both the cognitive and the emotional side, but it’s very important for a leader and consultant to have that expressive, emotional, vulnerability,” Waber told Forbes.
Google, MetLife, PepsiCo and McKinsey are among the companies that have had them, according to Forbes. In terms of schools, MIT, Duke, UCLA, Stanford and Notre Dame’s Executive MBA program have all taught improv classes, according to Fast Company.
Finding ways to relax at work should help get you in your element and spark your creativity.