No Extra Time Needed: 5 Ways To Relax And Reduce Stress At Work Efficiently

  • 30 January 2016
  • sjanicke

When I travel, I often experience the most amazing creative flashes. The different environments, smells, noises, temperatures just expand my mind to think about things in different ways. Research actually supports this experience.  For me, a lot of times this creative spark unloads itself while I am flying in an airplane. There must be something about the experience of being trapped, forced to sit still, with only limited stimulation, that lets all the ideas and energies that accumulated over time bubble to the surface.

So while I was trapped in my airplane on the way from LA to Dallas, with the styrofoam mug of coffee in my hand, and a very nervous person next to me that constantly switched from reading one book to the next on his IPad, I was thinking about the opportunity I had just in this moment, in the airplane, to do nothing and relax.

I was thinking about the opportunity I had just in this moment, in the airplane, to do nothing and relax.

Sure, I could have worked on my computer, but without paying for the Internet I would have not been able to email, Facebook, snapchat, twitter or text. Things we usually occupy ourselves with when we have some minutes of “free-time” at our hands. Not too long ago we were stuck at an airplane without any form of “in flight entertainment” whatsoever. And now, these little retractable monitors that fold down every couple of rows to show some airline sponsored TV show almost feel like an insult. So it became normal to download movies or TV shows on our devices or even pay the $9-$15 it costs to download the inflight entertainment program the airline has to offer. And all for a 3-5 hour cross country flight. Now, while I do enjoy watching movies on airplanes when I fly internationally—because it really is the only time where I can do it without feeling guilty that I did not use the time more wisely—I think that time, indeed, can be used more efficiently for our health.

Research has shown how important it is to “be bored”, have downtimes for our brain, and not do anything for a while to recharge our cognitive and self-regulatory batteries. It gives our brain the opportunity to store and process the amount of information we have accumulated over the day from the minute we woke up. And yes, even short 15-minute breaks can have a tremendous positive effect on our stress-level and cognitive overload. 

But in today’s technology world it seems that these “recharging” times become less and less common. In fact, I cannot think of a single time during an everyday workday in which people just shut down from their technologies and just take a breath. 

All “waiting” times that occupy our everyday life’s, such as waiting for the bus, the green traffic light, the coffee or the meal, are now consumed with being on our smart phones. 

These are all times in which the mind could take a #RealBreak and recharge, but instead we continue to deplete its resources.

There is this general notion in society that we need to use every minute of our day efficiently. So we think we are able to tackle the mountain of work faster when we send a couple of emails quickly from our phone while we stand in line waiting or our coffee. The irony though is that answering these emails only creates more emails in our inbox, adding to the mountain of work we feel so overwhelmed by and that stress us out in the first place. So, what can we do instead?

Well, I think it is pretty easy. And it does not include making extra time (time we feel like we don’t have) in our day to start a new exercise or meditation routine to create downtime. No, it includes just using those waiting times we do have every day more efficiently. And with efficiently I mean efficient for our brain to recharge, our self-regulation to regenerate, and to de-stress. 

The avid coffee drinker certainly spends 10 minutes every day in line to wait for their coffee at the coffee shop. Those that eat lunch outside the office wait for their food to be prepared. And even if you bring lunch to the office you have at least 3 minutes where you heat your food up in the microwave.

So, there are plenty of moments in a given work day where we do have extra time on our hands.

Here are five suggestions how to use these waiting periods more “efficiently” for our well-being:

1.     Mindful Body: With all the mental work we engage in in our everyday business, it is very calming to focus back on our bodies and become aware of our bodies in the physical space. How are we actually feeling today? Have we asked ourselves this question at all? Maybe there is tension in the shoulders or the feet, maybe we notice we are hungry, tired, and our breath is going quickly. Just becoming aware of that already creates a mental cut between our active mind anticipating the mountain of work ahead and what is actually going on in the present moment. Here is a 3 minute body scan video that could be your new “waiting in line” practice.

2.     Mindful Breath: Whatever is going on in our minds and phones, to take a break from all that, focusing on our breath is an old school, but very efficient technique. Practicing vagal tone breathing,  which basically includes making you outbreath at least twice as long as your inbreath, automatically activates the parasympathetic nervous system and thus, slows down our stress response. Nothing that cannot be done while waiting in line at the cafeteria or at the lunch restaurant.

3.     Mindful Surroundings: We may go in and out of our coffee shop or lunch place for years without ever having really noticed the place. How about spending some time to check out our environment intentionally. There may be beautiful things around us we never noticed. Once we notice a judgment comes up (I like or don’t like these green chairs) we let it go. It is only about scanning the environment and becoming aware of it. Again, this completely distracts from our work related thoughts and brings us back into the present moment.

4.     Mindfulness Apps: We can even use our phone to relax by using a mindfulness app such as calm or stop breathe and think or Pause or Relax Melodies, Headspace or Buddhify.There is more and more technology developed that can help and assist us in relaxing, and moments of waiting may be great moments to test some of these tools.

5.     Self-Compassion: How about just stopping and appreciating the 5 minutes of waiting, of legitimately being able not to do anything. This really is just a shift in our mindset but it can have a great impact. Our attention is always caught by something or someone and there are always things to do and demands to follow, but in those times where we wait for something, the green traffic light, the line at the grocery checkout, the time when the gas fills up the car tank, these are all moments in which we officially don’t’ have to work or answer emails. We totally can just be in the moment and treat ourselves nicely. Check out my friends Julia Mines article on the importance of self-compassion for our well-being. Even those micro moments of waiting in line can be moments of self-compassion. Moments in which we say: while I wait in line for my lunch, I will give myself a treat. The treat of just breathing, being, and perceiving the moment.

No meditation cushion needed, no extra time required. Right in this moment of waiting for something to move forward. It’s easy and everybody can do it.

My personal focus for this next month is to use my waiting times “efficiently”. To recharge, rejuvenate, calm down and take a breath during the times I wait for the bus, my toast, a class to start, or a meeting to begin. Maybe I use an app to assist me too. Either way, standing in line will now be my extra #RealBreaks during the day.

Share your “Waiting in line #RealBreaks” at the #RealBreak Facebook page.