how to de-stress; 8 tips to unwind

How You Can Unwind Right Now

Stress at work — be it rushing a deadline for a report or dealing with demanding clients — is often unavoidable. While some level of pressure is good to keep you motivated at work, excessive stress can be overwhelming and harmful to your physical and emotional well-being. Try these quick fixes at the office to relieve the mounting stress.

1. Take a Power Nap


It sounds counterintuitive — especially when there’s plenty of work waiting for you — but a short 15-20 minute shut-eye can help you “reset” your frazzled system. You’ll feel more energised and alert to tackle the next task when you wake up from your short nap.

Research also shows that taking naps promote alertness on the job[1], reduces sleepiness and improves cognition performance[2]. This could help you to solve problems faster, or get over that mental block, hence clearing the backlog of work more efficiently. Also remember to get enough sleep (7-9 hours daily for an adult) to have better concentration and focus. 

Related: Sleep Well, Live Better

2. Stretch It Out

We’ve all experienced it before — when we’re stressed, our bodies tense up. Hunching over your desk, trying to meet the deadlines, won’t do your back, shoulders, and neck muscles any favours. A quick way to get relief is to get up and streeetch[3] those tensed muscles.

You could also try chair yoga[4], a gentle form of yoga that can be easily done in the office. Start with the seated chest lift — this move opens your chest and stretches your back. Sit at the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the ground and your hands rested behind you at the back of the seat, fingers pointing away. Inhale, lift your chest and then exhale before releasing your hands. Repeat this move five times.

Related: Moves You Can Do In Your Cubicle

3. Relax your Senses by Seeing Green

Human beings have a natural affinity for elements of nature, which has the innate ability to heal our body and mind, as well as improve our mood[5]. The Japanese’s Shinrin-yoku (which means “forest bathing[6]”), the idea of being in wild and natural places, and taking strolls in zen gardens are ways to improve our overall well-being. They evoke a sense of serenity and inner peace that heals the mind, body and soul and allows one to set aside some time for self-reflection.

Don’t worry if there isn’t a zen garden or park nearby. You can still relax by helping to tend to the office plants, or even better, build your own terrarium. Observing the plants growing slowly day by day can be highly therapeutic; open terrariums, like office plants, can also eliminate odours and absorb pollutants in the air.

Relax your mind and find inner peace with a miniature zen garden set that you could either make or buy. The repetitive act of combing the sand and arranging the stones has a calming effect. It also trains the mind to focus on the present, freeing it from stray thoughts and worries.

Related: Seeing Green, Unwind with Nature

4. Relax your Senses with Calming Music or Nature Sounds

Are there times when you absolutely need to focus but are distracted by sounds in the office? It might be the phone ringing or worse, the distant drilling of construction, and they’re all leaving you frustrated. Find some inner quiet by listening to calming music and sounds of nature. The sounds of crashing waves, trickling raindrops, chirping birds and other sounds of nature and calming music are amongst the most soothing and pleasurable states. They can help the brain to relax, focus better and boost your efficiency at work.

Research has shown that employees who connect more with nature at work reported fewer stress-related complaints[7]. Listening to nature sounds can help one recover from mental stress[8] more quickly, minimise the negative effects of depression and improve your mood to be more positive. You don’t have to spend any money to gain access to such music, check out YouTube as there are many sounds of nature videos that you can listen to. Here’s[9] one to last you for the next four hours.

5. Think Positive 

Changing your mindset and having a positive attitude can make you happier.

6. Revive Your Mind with Creative Breaks

Before you dive your head into rushing the last-minute presentation and stressing yourself out, grab some colour pencils for some creative doodling. The concentration of the mind and the positive emotions evoked through the spontaneous act of drawing keep it in the present, declutters your thoughts and makes one happy.

Doodling is certainly not a mindless activity as it actively engages your brain and hones the processes that help us to multi-task, focus and plan. If you are not into doodling, try your hands at origami and turn the colourful paper into creative animals and objects. Both are great ways to recharge your mind, de-stress and to discover the artist inside you.

Related: Expressing Yourself Through the Arts

7. Revive with Mindfulness

Take a few minutes to practise mindful breathing exercise every day. It will help your mind and body to relax. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment. Studies[12] show that mindfulness helps to increase tolerance of negative emotions[13] and works as a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems[14].

Make the effort to take short breaks during work and incorporate some simple mindfulness techniques like taking deep breaths and counting them with your eyes closed. A short mindfulness exercise every day works wonders to help you re-focus and clear your mind. Here’s[15] a useful link that you can try.

Related: Cultivating Mindfulness

8. Talk It Out with a Co-worker or Friend

If you’re stressed out at work or feeling upset with an annoying colleague, don’t let the problem worsen by bottling it up. Rant to (or instant message) a friend or co-worker about it and you’ll feel instantly better.

Sharing your troubles with your co-worker or friend can help you relieve stress and get different perspectives on how to tackle these issues. By confiding your issues with people you trust, you can also draw renewed strength and love from them, learn from their experiences and feel more energised to manage the work stress.

9. Manage Your Time

Plan your time well so that you can complete tasks on time. Break large tasks into smaller manageable parts.

Read these next:


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  2. Lovato, N., & Lack, L. (2010). The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. Progress in Brain Research, 1(185), 155-166.
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  3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, Feb 8). Desk stretches help prevent pain and stiffness. See how they’re done. [MayoClinic].
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  4. Roos, C. [MindfulChairYoga] (n.d.). MindfulChairYoga User Page [YouTube].
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  7. Largo-Wight, E., Chen, W. W., Dodd, V., & Weiler, R. (2011). Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health. Public Health Reports, 126(Suppl 1), 124—130.
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  8. Alvarsson, J. J., Wiens, S., & Nilsson, M. E. (2010). Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(3), 1036—1046.
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  9. [TheHonestGuys]. (2013, Jun 18). 3 HOURS Relaxing Music with Water Sounds Meditation [Video file].
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  10. Fishman, E., Turkheimer, E., & DeGood, D.E. (1995, Feb). Touch relieves stress and pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18(1), 69-79.
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  11. Judie, A., & Brintha, N, N. (2015, Sep 25). Touch and Massage On Pain Perception among Primiparturient Mothers. Research & Reviews: Journal of Nursing & Health Sciences, 1(3), 48-51.
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  12. Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2012, Aug). What are the benefits of mindfulness [American Psychological Association].
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  13. Farb, N. A. S., Anderson, A. K., & Segal, Z. V. (2012). The Mindful Brain and Emotion Regulation in Mood Disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 57(2), 70—77.
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  14. Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169—183.
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  15. James, A. (n.d.). 6 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try Today [Pocket Mindfulness].
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