7 tips to help you instantly relax during your workday

Workday stress is a challenge, whether you’re at home or in an office. Eight in 10 Americans feel stressed on the job, and that tension has physical effects, whether we notice them or not.  

“We don’t give stress enough credit for how detrimental it can be to the body,” says Dr. Kelsey Vickers, physical therapist at BlueCross BlueShied of Tennessee. “A stressed body releases increased cortisol, which is known as the ‘fight-or-flight hormone.’ Cortisol is helpful when we need to act in a dangerous scenario, but having it raging through us constantly has negative effects, especially if it happens every day.” 

Excess cortisol can cause or worsen: 

“The good news is there are simple things you can do for yourself while you work to break up the stress of life,” says Dr. Vickers. 

Passive relaxation

“The quickest way to reduce workday stress is using passive or environmental relaxation techniques,” says Dr. Vickers. 

Consider these 2 types of relaxation:  

Active relaxation is anything that requires intervention, or action, on the patient’s part. These hands-on techniques include activities such as massage, meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.

Passive relaxation, on the other hand, is anything the patient can do to calm their nervous system using their environment. These are things that can be added to your day while you work. Passive relaxation techniques include activities such as playing calming music, using heat therapy or finding a workspace with more natural light. 

Reducing sensory overload

A key part of cutting down on workday stress is to pay attention to your senses. 

“When you think of your nervous system as a whole, you’re getting input from your senses all the time: sight, taste, smell, touch, sound and proprioception, which is the body’s ability to sense its location, movements and actions,” says Dr. Vickers. “When you think about the senses as you knew them when you were little, you’re in a better space to notice what you have too much of. Reducing input on even one of those senses can make a big difference.”

7 tips for instantly relaxing while you work

1. Avoid chaotic workspaces

“When you walk into a chaotic workspace, your brain thinks, ‘We have a mess,’ even if you aren’t consciously aware of it,” says Dr. Vickers. 

Address it:

  • Reduce visual clutter. Keep whatever project you’re working on front and center, and keep the rest out of sight. That will reduce the stress of seeing what’s to come.
  • Shut down emails and silence calls if you can while you’re actively working on something. Tuning your attention to the task at hand will get it done faster and better.
  • Cut down on unnecessary items in your workspace. One photo can be calming or inspiring; a desk full of knick knacks doesn’t serve you.

2. Playing calming music

“Play around until you find what relaxes you while still allowing you to be productive,” says Dr. Vickers. “Try mellow jazz or R&B, trickling water or wind chimes — whatever works! Personally, I enjoy a little Adele in the background.” 

3. Maximize natural light

Studies show that natural light increases vitamin D, which has many health benefits,” says Dr. Vickers. “In the workplace, it’s been shown to increase productivity and worker satisfaction, and it improves sleep quality when you’re not at work.”

4. Use heat to break up tension

Heating pads or blankets are great for relaxing commonly tensed areas. 

“Heat reduces resting muscle tension and alters the signals your joints and muscles send to your brain ,” says Dr. Vickers. “Just be aware that if you apply heat to your lower back or shoulders when sitting at a desk, you may naturally relax to the point of an abnormal posture. Pay a little extra attention to how you’re sitting when using heat or weight so you don’t overstress other areas.” 

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5. Use weighted blanket

Weighted blankets provide deep-pressure stimulation to your autonomic nervous system, which includes 2 systems:

  • The sympathetic nervous system is the one that manages fight-or-flight responses. It assesses threats, releases cortisol, and moves on.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system is the one that returns homeostasis and controls calm, resting states. 

“Deep pressure stimulates the parasympathetic system, offering very low, long, deep pressure,” says Dr. Vickers. “Try resting a weighted blanket across your lap to activate those restorative properties.” 

6. Stand up

“Most people need to get up and move away from their desks more frequently during the workday,” says Dr. Vickers. “Take a 2-minute checkout: walk a lap around the room or go to the mailbox; get a glass of water; step outside for a breath of fresh air. Just move! Our bodies crave movement.” 

7. Move your jaw

“Stress commonly expresses itself as jaw tightness or teeth grinding,” says Dr. Vickers. “Many people have night guards to prevent this while they sleep, but sleep isn’t the only time we tighten our jaws!” 

Disrupt that tension with this simple daily exercise:

  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth directly behind your teeth.
  • Allow your jaw to relax and lower toward the floor. Keep your lips closed and your teeth apart.
  • Relax into this position for 20-30 seconds. 
  • Repeat 2-3 times in a set.
  • Perform this a few times through your work day, or at set times such as when you’re driving, watching TV, etc. so you can make it part of your routine.

4 more muscle relaxation techniques you can do at home

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.