There’s one truth that holds for anywhere you might happen to work: most of the time they have to pay you to be there! You might be doing work you absolutely love, and you might think yourself the luckiest person on earth nine days out of ten, but there will always be days–rainy days, hung-over mornings, days when you just want to read a good book–when going in to work seems like the last thing in the world you want to do. And even on a good day, the pace of work can become overwhelming: the lunch rush at a restaurant, the first day of a new sale, the last paperwork-filled weeks of the fiscal year. Combine a general bad mood with a fast-paced, high-volume work environment, and you’ve just discovered one of the best recipes for stress imaginable.
There are a number of solutions to workplace stress out there: desk toys, casual work environments, complicated therapy or company counselors. However, there’s only one truly simple, effective remedy for stress, in one word only: Relax. According to the research of Herbert Benson’s Mind Body Medical Institute, anywhere from sixty to ninety percent of visits to a physician involve stress-related disorders, most of the effects of which can be substantially reduced by just learning how to relax.
If you’re stressed out enough to suffer from these complaints, chances are that advice to “just relax!” in a workplace setting may seem at best difficult, at worst outright foolhardy. But that’s just not so. The relaxation response isn’t just a response to a relaxing environment: it’s an internal process, similar to the physiological effects of stress, that can be activated any time you like. All you have to do is learn how to activate it.
You can do this in your office. Get to a point in your work when you can take a break for ten or fifteen minutes, or just make yourself take a break for ten or fifteen minutes: you do your best work when you’re relaxed, so don’t worry about the work waiting for you when you get back. Find a calm place to sit down. Get away from any phones, faxes or talkative coworkers for a while–if you have to, just sit down in your car. Take a deep breath and close your eyes.
The two keys to effective relaxation are physical response and mental calmness. Luckily, the two of them go hand in hand. Start out your workplace relaxation by taking long, deep breaths from the bottom of your lungs up to the diaphragm. Try, as best you can, to empty your head of all thoughts, plans, and worries: right now, all you need to do is relax. To help you with this, try saying something simple to yourself while you breathe: count up to four and back down again, think of the name of a favorite pet, child, or friend, repeat a mantra, prayer, or even a line from a favorite song. That’s all there is to it. Just breathe in, repeat your mantra, breathe out, and repeat.
Don’t worry if you find it difficult at first to clear your head: you can’t force relaxation, you can only guide it. Just keep breathing and doing your best to let go. It may help to visualize something simple: imagine a hand grasping all of your worries, and imagine each finger slowly relaxing its grip and opening to its full length until the hand is open, and all of your worries are slipping away.
Keep going for as long as you feel the stress. Once you feel relaxed and ready to go back to work, slowly return your breathing to normal and let go of whatever you’ve been repeating. Leave your eyes closed for a minute before opening them, and remain in whatever comfortable place you’re in for as long as you need to, slowly allowing your workplace thoughts and concerns to return.
You’ll find, when you get back to work, that what seemed unmanageable just fifteen short minutes ago suddenly seems fresh, new, and able to be dealt with. You’ll find, in fact, that what you may have thought of as an indulgent extra break is one of the best assets you have in the workplace, both for yourself and for your employer, allowing you freedom from the sometimes crippling thoughts and bodily pains that prevented you from concentrating before.
Whenever you find the pressures of work getting too much for you, keep this exercise in mind. Work can be stressful, but there’s no reason to let it get the better of you. We sometimes believe that tight control and strict attention to all of the little details is the only way to be effective in a work environment, but in that, we’re wrong. The only way to truly be effective is to stay healthy, calm–and relaxed.