You’re stressed. Of course you are. But you don’t have to be. These seven strategies for taking a break from stress are quick, backed by science, and can be done right at your desk.
1. DRINKING TEA
Stop what you’re doing, get up, and make yourself a cup of herbal tea. This one works for a few reasons. First, it gets you away from the task at hand, which disrupts the cycle of stress and pressure and gives you a short break. Second, herbal teas made with chamomile, peppermint, or barley are all proven stress reducers. Third, scientists say that holding a hot drink can actually make you feel warmer toward those around you, which is especially helpful if they’re the ones stressing you out.
We don’t mean pack up your stuff and leave. We mean exercise, stretching, or dancing. Even a short burst of physical activity breaks up stress and boosts happy-making hormones. And moving your body can help get you out of your head, at least for a little while.
Or kitties! Or birdies! You’ve probably heard that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, but did you know that watching cat videos on the Internet can improve productivity? Scientists say any engagement with an animal, even if it’s just looking at pictures of puppies, can reduce stress. If you’re someone who likes to plan ahead, you could create a folder of cute animal pictures on your computer desktop in case of stress emergencies.
When you feel stressed or threatened, your sympathetic nervous system assumes something is chasing you and gets your body ready to run. The tensed muscles, rapid heart rate, and shallow, fast breathing we associate with stress are all the result of your sympathetic nervous system “helping.” But you can hack the system and use it to your advantage. First, get comfortable. Then, take a long, slow breath, inhaling as deeply as you can. Hold that breath for a few seconds, then let it out very slowly. Do this for thirty seconds or a minute and your body will realize that there is no threat. Your heart rate will slow down, and your stress level will decrease.
5. MAKING SOMETHING
You don’t have to be an artist or an expert to try this strategy. The simple act of making something, whether that’s knitting a scarf or doodling on your notes, can decrease anxiety and boost happiness. Neuroscientists say it works because your brain can only process so much at one time, and focusing on creating something gives you a reprieve from focusing on whatever was stressing you out.
6. WATCHING CARTOONS
It doesn’t have to be cartoons—it could be slapstick comedy, silly jokes, or talking to a funny friend. The point is to laugh. Laughter is great for your body; it helps you get more oxygen, shuts down your stress response, floods your body with positive-mood-enhancing chemicals, and can even help relieve pain.
7. GETTING OUT(SIDE)
Nature is an incredible stress reliever. Taking a walk or sitting on a bench in a park (put your phone away, please) is enough to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and inspire a sense of wellbeing. You may feel like you can’t possibly spare the time, but trust us: It’s worth it, and even five minutes of outside time will help.