A bit of pressure at work can actually be a positive. It helps to keep you motivated, engaged and is a key factor to helping you meet your goals and targets. However, if pressure becomes excessive, then you may start to feel stressed and unable to cope.
Learning how to relax is a key way to combat the negative effects of that stress can cause. Relaxation helps you slow down and conserve your energy so that you can keep a healthy perspective at work.
Learning to relax is a valuable tool to help you:
- cope with stress
- achieve a healthy work-life balance
- relieve tension
- improve your happiness and wellbeing
Relaxation techniques can also help you get a better night’s sleep, reduce pain and calm your emotions – all things that will help you cope better in the office.
Learning a few simple relaxation exercises arms you with the tools you need to cope with a stressful day or period at work. These only take a few minutes and you can do them at your desk or work station, or standing up if you’re taking a break.
Remember, practice makes perfect. The more you practise certain relaxation techniques, the easier they will become – even in a busy and noisy environment like the office.
This involves using your imagination to focus on scenes that have a calming effect on your mood. This could be the memory of a holiday, a favourite place or even a completely imaginary beach or meadow.
Close your eyes and focus on the image, or images, for a few seconds to unwind and relax. This may not always be the most practical thing to do in the middle of a busy office. But perhaps find somewhere quiet to do it, away from your desk.
Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is a very simple but effective way to relax if you’re feeling stressed at work. The best thing about trying deep breathing at your desk is that no-one else is likely to even notice.
Try consciously slowing your breathing and focus on taking regular deep breaths. Place one hand just below your breast bone and one on your stomach. This will help you to notice that your abdomen (tummy) rises as you breathe in and goes down when you breathe out. Breathing out is particularly associated with relaxation, so specifically try to slow down the rate of your out breath.
When you start to feel tense or stressed, take five or ten minutes to practise some deep breathing. It may feel odd or unnatural to start with, but slowing down your breathing can really help you to relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Being stressed at work can cause tense muscles. Doing some simple muscle relaxation exercises, either at or away from your desk, will help to physically relax you. This, in turn, should also help relax your mind and improve your sense of wellbeing.
Progressive muscle relaxation is also known as Jacobson’s relaxation or systematic muscle relaxation. For this relaxation technique, you focus on tightening and relaxing each muscle group one at a time. For example, you may tense your right leg muscles, hold for 15 seconds, and then release them.
Try starting from your feet and work your way up your body, tensing and releasing each group of muscles. Imagine the tension flowing out of your body, and try to notice the difference between tension and relaxation. You may also want to combine this muscle relaxation technique with deep breathing or imagery.
Doing some simple stretches at your desk can help relax your body and ease tension. The following exercises are quick and easy to do, anytime of the day.
- Neck glide. Sit or stand up straight, and keeping your chin parallel to the ground, glide your head back as far as it will go. Now glide your head forward. Repeat three times.
- Shoulder shrugs and circles. Sit or stand up straight, bring your shoulders up towards your ears. Hold for a count of three seconds. Relax and repeat twice. For shoulder circles, sit or stand up straight, circle your shoulders backwards three times, with your arms relaxed by your sides.
- Upper back stretches. Cross your arms and raise your hands so that they rest on the front of your shoulders. Now use your arms to push your shoulders back keeping your elbows down. Hold for 15 seconds and then repeat three times.
You may not always have the time or privacy to do deep breathing, imagery or relaxation exercises at work. However, making some simple changes to the way you work could help create a more relaxing environment.
- Turn off your email for an hour each day, and the phone if possible, to minimise distractions and interruptions. Use this time to refocus or write down to-do lists to organise your thoughts.
- If you’re struggling to focus on a particular task, listen to some music on your headphones to keep out the noise of a busy office. Opt for soothing music, or tracks with a slower tempo.
- Pause for thought. Pausing, just for a few seconds, can help you to relax throughout the day. Take a moment to stop and simply look around, or close your eyes and take a deep breath.
- Make use of your lunch break to get outside on sunny days, or find a quiet spot to read a book. Arrange to meet a friend or go out with your work colleagues for lunch or a walk to help refresh you for the afternoon.
- Make the effort to get up and about throughout the day – mini breaks are important. Go over and talk to a colleague instead of sending an email, or turn an office-based meeting into a walking meeting.
- Consider using your lunch break to exercise. If you have an on-site gym, be sure to take advantage. Exercise is a great stress-buster and can boost your mood. If you don’t have a gym close by, head out for a run or see what classes are happening in your area.
If none of these techniques or tips help to relax you, talk to your manager or someone you can trust at work. Don’t suffer in silence – your place of work has a duty to care for your health. They will more than likely ease your workload if it’s becoming too much or help identify the root cause of your stress.
0845 766 0163
- What is stress? Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk accessed 27 January 2014
- Mind guide to relaxation. Mind. www.mind.co.uk, published 2004
- Relaxation techniques for health: an introduction. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). www.nccam.nih.gov, published February 2013
- Brief tips to help you relax. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published 2013
- Vickers A, Zollman C, Payne DK. Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. West J Med 2001; 175(4): 269–72
- Exercises to reduce musculoskeletal discomfort for people doing a range of static and repetitive work. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published 2011
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Reviewed by Alice Rossiter, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2014.
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