Unwinding at your workplace may be a good way to boost productivity and feel more engaged at the office. At least that's the finding of studies on workplace efficiency, which show that lower levels of stress and higher levels of happiness lead to an overall increase in worker satisfaction and output. At the University of Washington in Seattle, researchers found that human resources employees who underwent relaxation training in mindfulness meditation showed improved memory back on the job and switched tasks less frequently, indicating a possible link between relaxation and concentration. Furthermore, a number of studies find that relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation exercises can bolster well-being by reducing stress-related ailments such as high blood pressure and certain forms of joint pain. Adding a relaxation routine to your work day doesn't require a long lunch hour. All you need is a quiet space (or headphones) and 10 minutes of uninterrupted time.
Deep Breathing for Instant Calm
If you've never tried a relaxation technique before, deep breathing is a great place to start. You can practice it at your desk prior to a meeting or before you walk into the office. Simply breathe in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Focus on taking deep breaths without pushing past your comfort level. You can place a hand on your stomach to help you better feel your diaphragm expand and contract. Repeat for at least 10 breaths, or preferably several minutes. Adding imagery helps some people. Picture the ocean ebbing and flowing on a beach, or imagine your breath is a bright color spreading a peaceful sensation throughout your body. Some people find it helps to perform deep breathing while lying down, while others prefer to sneak it into moments of downtime while seated to de-stress at their desk.
Meditation to Help You Relieve Stress
Meditation brings your attention to the present moment and quiets ruminating thoughts, which can help relieve stress when you have an upcoming deadline. A study by Yale University revealed that the practice works by decreasing activity in parts of the brain associated with mind-wandering and thoughts about the self, which can translate into less worrying. There are many types of meditation, including mantra-based forms, the lotus-position style of Zen monks, and mindfulness-based stress reduction, a secular form popular in the West.
Begin with the basics. Seated comfortably in a chair or on the floor, practice your deep breathing. As your mind begins to wander, acknowledge the thought, then release it, bringing your attention back to your breath. Aim for daily sessions of 10 to 20 minutes. Most people find that their mind wanders quite a lot, but don't be concerned; distraction is a normal part of the practice. Just recognize your thought or the source of your distraction, and return your focus to your breathing. Some people find that trying to empty their mind leaves them feeling more frustrated than relaxed. If this is you, try listening to a guided mindfulness meditation on your headphones. The direction gives your mind something to focus on. It also helps to practice in a quiet spot such as your office, an empty conference room or a bench outside, although as you gain experience, you may find you can meditate virtually anywhere.
Yoga to Lessen Chair Pain
Yoga uses poses and stretches to help you relax and stay limber. Research indicates that the ancient exercises also lessen chronic lower-back pain, making it ideal for those at desk jobs. You can use a yoga mat to practice in your office, or learn a few standing poses to perform beside your desk. Stretch your back muscles with the Forward Bend, a basic pose that's like a slow-motion version of the hands-to-toes stretch you did in gym class. Or loosen up your quads and shoulders with the Standing Thigh Stretch, which involves clasping an ankle with one hand while raising the other. You can also stretch in your chair with poses such as the Seated Backbend to open up shoulders or a modified Cow Face pose to release your wrists after typing. If you work in a shared office environment and feel self-conscious practicing among co-workers, ask around to see if others want to form a yoga group with you.
When your day is so busy you can't even stop for lunch, it may feel impossible to take a yoga break. However, those are precisely the days when relaxation techniques help you cope. By mentally shelving a looming deadline or a demanding client, even for five minutes, you can better see the big picture and return to work with renewed focus. Over the long term, these techniques may strengthen emotional resiliency, so you can take stressful events in stride and tackle bigger challenges. Many people find that relaxing takes practice, so don't worry if it takes you a while to feel calm when you first start.
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