Have you ever had one of those days where you sit down at your desk and never look up from your computer til the sun has gone down? Ever had one of those days when you end the day tightly wound and needing a stiff drink and a lot of self-care? Yes, us too. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can leave work more relaxed than when you arrived. De-stressing during your workday — using a number of methods, from meditation to a walk — is important, and there are many ways that can help working women de-stress at work in less than 30 minutes.
Take a walk
It’s the easiest thing to do to de-stress at work and costs nothing. Take a walk outside. See the sun. Breathe the air. Don’t take your phone. If you can, work up a smallish sweat to get your heart rate pumping. If there’s a nearby park or trail, head there and “forest bathe.” (Forest bathing, or “Shinrin-yoku,” for the uninitiated, is simply, walking or sitting amongst many trees). Walking, even as a little as 20 or 30 minutes, according to studies cited by Prevention magazine, “can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer.” One book, Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, discusses the benefits of walking for mood.
Meditate while you walk or meditate at your desk. But the experts agree: Meditation is a great way to de-stress and decompress at work. According to the National Institute of Health, “There’s evidence that it may reduce blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and may help people with insomnia.” If you don’t know what you’re doing when you meditate, there are a ton of apps for that: Headspace, which requires an annual subscription for full access, is one of the most popular. Another, Insight Timer, offers many free meditations. Some of them are as short as three minutes, and there are a number of variations (Guided, Timer, Sleep, Music, Courses and more). Still another app, Sanvello, has automated daily check-ins which ask, “How are you feeling?” After you click through some preset answers, it’ll offer a meditation or exercise for that day, many of which are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This can be done in under 5 minutes and is a great way to de-stress at work.
Change your location
If you work in the type of office that has communal spaces, sometimes a change of scenery can help you break up the day and change your mood, which will go a long way to helping you de-stress during your work day. If you are a freelancer or solo worker, working at a coworking space or a café for all or part of your workday can help you de-stress. You can engage in water cooler talk, gossip about the latest celebrity news, laugh at a joke and return to your desk, refreshed.
Are you getting frustrated because you have a problem you can’t solve and you’ve been banging your head for hours trying to solve it? This is often called a “gumption trap,” coined by Robert. M. Pirsig in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the deeply philosophical book, he describes becoming frustrated after working on his bike for hours, trying to fix a part. His advice: put that problem away for even a half hour and try doing something simple. In your case, it might be emailing back your colleagues, filing paperwork or crossing off easy items on your checklist. (Or, even make a new checklist. Sometimes clearing your mind helps de-stress). By the time you come back to the task that frustrated you, you might have a renewed sense of energy, or you may have figured out the missing puzzle piece in that time by giving your brain a break. Likewise, if you are bored by the task, do something that’s harder and invigorates you before returned to the boring and mundane task.
Give yourself an ear massage
Yes, really. An ear massage using a pressure point, dubbed “auricular acupuncture,” has been found to treat anxiety when patients were on the way to the hospital. A randomized, blinded study tried two points (a relaxation point and a sham point). The researchers found that those in the relaxation group reported “significantly less anxiety” than those in the sham point group. So try it. Sit at your desk and rub this little point in your ear for a few minutes and see if it helps you de-stress at work.
If you are near a gym and don’t mind giving up part of your lunch break, a quick gym session where you get your heart rate up and release endorphins can help you de-stress at work in less than 30 minutes. Run on the treadmill for 10, bike furiously for another 10, hit the rowing machine for 5, and then cool down and change. Voila, a miraculously de-stressed you is sitting at your desk just a few minutes later.
Exercise at your desk
It might look a little weird, but whatever. There are myriad exercises you can do at your desk without working up too much of a sweat. Among them (as suggested by the prior links): toe raises (standing or seated, just raise up and down on your toes); lunges (step one foot forward and then back); tricep dips (put your hands behind you on the chair and lower yourself down and up); and head and neck stretches (which are also great for calming and relaxing you, as well).
Midday yoga session
To de-stress during your workday in less than 30 minutes, a midday yoga session can combine some other elements in our list — walking, breathing, meditating — and up the ante with more intense full-body physical activity. A recent small study (“a quasi-experimental study,” according to the researchers), found that 52 women reported that depression, anxiety and stress significantly decreased after 12 sessions of regular hatha yoga practice. It makes sense: You are engaging in deep breaths, stretching, physical movement, changing your environment, and meditating and, in some cases, chanting. It’s a multi-fecta (like a trifecta, but better) of things you can do to de-stress at work. If you have small area at your office (or if you work from home, lucky you), you can do downward dog, cat cow, and child’s pose to stretch and decompress during your workday. Not sure what to do? Follow along with this video, which is just 23 minutes. Perfect.
Ignore the news
Unless you’re a journalist, don’t peep Twitter, The New York Times or your Facebook feed all day long, because it can quickly get stressful. Reading about politics, shootings, weather disasters, and all the rest of the worlds’ ills can quickly bum you out when you are trying to get through the workday. Americans are suffering form News Exposure Stress Syndrome. According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, consuming news causes more than half of Americans to become anxious, experience fatigue or lose sleep. To de-stress at work, start with not introducing any more stress than you need. Your work deadlines are hard enough to handle.
Focused music session
Some people can only work while they listen to music. Others get distracted by lyrics and too-catchy melodies. Brain.FM aims to meet you in the middle, by playing “functional music to focus in 15 minutes.” As they explain, “Sounds can grab our attention, even when we don’t want them to. If we can understand and predict this effect (‘auditory salience’), we can make better Focus music by ensuring that distracting moments don’t appear.” Though “Brain.fm is currently in the process of scientifically validating its concepts, but no study is currently published,” they are “working on methods of embedding brainwave entrainment into music, and hold a patent on the process. The AI built for Brain.fm now assembles music for this purpose.” In English: They offer sounds that are rhythmic and chugging or droning, designed to help you focus on a task, as well as more-ambient noises to help you relax. The idea is scientifically driven, so it’s not music, exactly, but can seem musical. Put some on and chill out or bear down.
Scientific studies on the health benefits of deep breathing show that just the act of the deep inhale alone has been shown to calm your nerves. In fact, deep breathing has a physiological effect on the body to calm the brain. Breathing also regulates blood pressure and balances the emotional control centers, and the rhythm of breathing itself boosts memory. It’s essentially an all-systems flush to right the mind and boost focus. What a bargain!
If you have a dog or a cat, and you are working at home, hug them! Spend a few minutes petting your furry friend. Take your dog for a walk (thus, accomplishing several things on this list at one time) or give the cat a scratch behind the ears. Animal therapy has been shown to be a mood enhancer. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Specifically, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.” If you are lucky to work at a dog-friendly place, take advantage of the opportunity and make new friends. If you can’t own an animal of your own, you could consider fostering a pet for a few weeks. It’s good for your soul and good for the animal.
Drink some tea
A study by psychologist Dr. Malcolm Cross at City University London that “placed volunteers in a stressful scenario, showed a 25 percent increase in anxiety for those that did not receive tea immediately after the stress-inducing test.” Those who did drink the tea? They had a 4 percent reduction. Interestingly, the study also found that the way the British make tea, which can be very ritualistic, also contributed to the calming factor. It’s the same idea as some of the other ways to de-stress at work we’ve listed: Taking a break or a time out to reset your day.
Watch some comedy
Laughter is the best medicine — or so “they” say. But, seriously, folks, it is. For a good laugh, dial up your favorite comedians, whether it’s Sarah Silverman, Ali Wong or Dave Chappelle, and watch a clip or five and take your mind off the stressful day that you are having. You know what else is always good for a laugh?: funny animal videos.
You can do it at your desk (while listening to Brain.Fm — see what we did there?), but it’s probably better to find a quiet, small space where you can just close your eyes for 20 minutes. If you’re worried about oversleeping, use the key trick (supposedly cooked up by Salvador Dali). Hold your keys in your hand and when you are entering a deep enough sleep, your hand will open and the keys will drop to the floor. When that happens, it will likely wake you up and is an indication that you’ve hit the right zone (before Stage Three sleep) and have gotten some actual rest. Oversleeping will make you groggy and also stress you out, so be careful to not do that! When you wake up you will feel refreshed!
Delegate tasks at home
Are you stressed out at work thinking about how you have to go home and do housework or clean or cook a big meal? Times like these call for delegation. Before you leave the office, make some arrangements: Enlist helpers with Handy or TaskRabbit, order in a meal via Caviar, Door Dash or UberEats, and then when you get home, all you have to do is put on some Netflix and actually chill.
Writer and editor Tricia Romano is the former editor-in-chief of the Stranger. She has been a staff writer at the Seattle Times and columnist for the Village Voice. She is currently working an oral history about the Village Voice for Public Affairs. You can also find her at Patreon.