You would think the human body would have evolved it’s stress response. Instead of fighting off bears and woolly mammoths, we now fight copy machines, bosses and the urge to take a nap in the afternoon meeting. Yet, our bodies still trigger the “fight or flight” response to stress, increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels and releasing cortisol and adrenaline into our system. Once useful for fleeing from predators, this nasty cocktail, repeated over time, can lead to hypertension, headaches or even depression and anxiety.
But did you know our body also has a “relaxation response,” during which your blood pressure decreases, the breathing slows and you even use less oxygen? So the next time you feel yourself tensing, your boss sends a demanding email or your spouse calls you angry on your lunch break, here are 7 Science-Based Ways to De-Stress at work.
1. Eat a banana mindfully
According to science, stress is a brain and immune system mediated phenomena, and your gut is the largest organ in your immune system. When you’re hungry, there is nothing more stressful to the brain. Choose something healthy with some mileage, like a handful of nuts, a hard boiled egg or avocado, and go somewhere peaceful to eat it. Potassium also helps to regulate blood pressure, which rises during stressful situations. Eating foods rich in potassium like a banana or potato can help protect your body from the negative effects of stress. For added benefits, use your snack time as a meditation, taking your time to notice the sensations - how the snack tastes, how it makes you feel - and focus on the moment.
2. Buy a plant for your desk
If you’re feeling stressed out, you may want to make an Earth Day purchase and get yourself a little green on your desk. Houseplants are not only great for purifying the air, they can actually help you to physiologically calm down. A study from Washington State University found that a group of stressed-out people who entered a room full of plants experienced a four-point drop in blood pressure. A small plant, tree or flower could add a little spring to your desk, and your step.
3. Listen to music or a guided meditation
Did you know your body releases dopamine just from listening to music? Tunes you love flood your brain with feel-good neurochemicals no matter the genre, however classical music has been found to have a particularly soothing effect, even decreasing the levels of stress hormones. For extra points, find a web-based stress management program such as guided meditation, which has been found to decrease stress levels and increase emotional well-being.
4. Get rid of email
Excessive communication has been linked to stress and uninterrupted computer use has been found to cause sleeping problems and even depression. With 205 billion emails sent last year and 40 percent of them adding no value to business, it’s no surprise we feel overwhelmed and stressed at work. Sign up for Taskworld and use these 3 Ways to Escape the Email Black Hole to get the time back and reverse the stress triggers of over-communication.
5. Take a deep breath
It sounds cliche but science says, taking deep breaths can aid systems harmed by stress and reduce blood pressure. Breathing exercises or taking a few deep breaths give the body an extra boost of oxygen, switching the shallow stress response that stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxation response that triggers the parasympathetic reaction, helping us to calm down.
Moving at your desk or getting up for some stretches reduces the risk of blood clots that can result from sitting too long in one position. This is especially important if you have a sedentary job or a job that puts stress on the body physically. Need some inspiration? Check out this infographic 9 Yoga Positions to De-Stress at Work.
7. Remember why you are here
It’s easy to forget, sometimes, why we are even working in the first place when egos are flying and you’re putting out fires all day long. It’s important to personalize your space and make a display in your office to connect you to your personal life. Include inspirational quotes, photos of your friends, partner, children, pets or a picture of yourself doing something fun. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or stressed, take five minutes to just enjoy the display. Recall when the pictures were taken and how you felt. Taking a few moments to reflect and feel gratitude can help you to relax and reset.