Five Simple Ways to Relax at Work When Stress Strikes


January 7, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.” – Richard Carlson

Stress sucks. It is one of those things that can sneak up on you at work and explode in terrible and hurtful ways.

When stress strikes it is really important to have some simple techniques in your arsenal that allow you to deal with the emotions in the short and long term.

This way you can avoid the angry outbursts, sleepless nights and anxious binge trips to KFC that all happen because of stress. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Find Your Breath
    One of the most effective and simple ways to deal with stress at work is taken from an ancient Buddhist meditation. It is called “calm abiding” and it is where you bring your attention and focus to the breath coming in and out of your nose. I talk about this a lot in Enlightening Stress Relief, because I believe it is one of the best ways to deal with stress right there in the office.

The main purpose of calm abiding meditation is to attain a state called “single pointed concentration” where the mediator can focus on any given object for as long as they want without their thoughts wandering away to other areas. Of course, this takes years to master and is not really what we are concerned with here. We are concerned with relieving stress.

Luckily for us, calm abiding meditation has several powerful side-effects and one of them is that i combats stress in a very efficient way – by relaxing the body and mind. Calm abiding meditation is also said to have the ability to heal some minor health problems and will also clear up headaches, neck aches and other stress related issues.

So how do we do it?

All you need to do is sit down and very slowly bring your attention to your breath. Focus on the feeling of the breath going in and out of your nose. If other thoughts enter into your mind just let them pass. Don’t judge them or try to force them out. Just notice them and then bring your awareness back to the breath.

Now we are going to count 10 rounds of the breath. A “round” is one inhale and one exhale. This is a lot harder than you think because the stressed mind will jump around like a monkey whose pants are on fire! If you lose count before you get to 10 simply start again.

This meditation is a short term and a long term solution. In the short term it will calm you down and cause anxious thoughts to dissipate and weaken. In the long term it will help you to manage stress and become aware of stressful thoughts as they arise. When you become more aware in this way stress becomes less and less of a dictator and you become more and more in control.

  • Get Sunlight and Wide Open Space
    Think about the average office; it is a stress breeding ground. Your eyes are barraged with fluorescent light, your skin is chilled with ducted air conditioning and your ears are constantly being tormented by co-workers, printers and chattering keyboards.When you spend a lot of the day indoors dealing with the daily grind you lose a lot of perspective. A stressful event seems like the end of the world and you spend the rest of the day (or week!) brooding and thinking about it over and over again. It is like there is nothing else going on in the world.When you feel like your whole world is becoming engulfed in stress and anxiety one of the simplest things you can do is go outside in the sun in a wide open space. When I was in university and exam stress was getting the best of me I would go to the very top floor of the building which overlooks the whole city with a computer chair and a coffee and just sit in the sun and look at the view.
  • The effect is wonderfully relaxing.Sunlight, for starters, has been scientifically proven to make you happier. It causes Vitamin D to be produced in your body and this is a natural anti-depressant.Secondly, the wide open spaces help you get back some perspective. Overlooking the city at my secret spot used to remind me that there are other people in the world a lot worse off than me, I have a lot to be thankful for and that failing an exam wasn’t the end of the world, etc.

    Secondly, the wide open spaces help you get back some perspective. Overlooking the city at my secret spot used to remind me that there are other people in the world a lot worse off than me, I have a lot to be thankful for and that failing an exam wasn’t the end of the world, etc.

    Being able to shift your perspective is a wonderful human quality that many people take for granted. Get outdoors to a wide open sunny spot and just slow down and regain some perspective. 

  • Get a Good Green or White Tea
    Everyone drinks tea but not everyone knows how amazingly good it is for battling stress. Green and White teas in particular are extremely good for your health. When I was in the Himalayas I was introduced to the relaxing effects of tea by my Tibetan friends and since that time I have used it extensively to calm me down. 

In case you don’t know there are five main types of tea:

  • Green Tea
  • White Tea
  • Oolong Tea
  • Black Tea
  • Pu Erh Tea

All of these teas come from the same plant but are given different names if they are prepared differently or made from a different part of the plant. Green tea, for example, is fried or steamed to prevent the leaves from fermenting whereas White Tea is made from the buds instead of the leaves. These two teas are said to be slightly more beneficial for stress related problems than the others.

So how does tea help stress?

Tea is full of antioxidants and does wonders for stress levels on many different levels. One study has shown that people who drink tea are actually happier than those who do not. They are also less likely to get cancer and some other serious illnesses.

There are many definitive physiological reasons as to why tea helps stress. Chinese doctors have known it for thousands of years and now western science is backing up those claims with evidence that a cup of tea can suppress a hormone in the body that causes stress.

I always encourage people to drink Dilmah tea as it is known as one of the world’s most ethical tea companies and produces the highest quality tea. Dilmah put a lot of money back into the local community and take good care of their workers. They also grow their tea in clean environments which is very important for our health. It is also important not to add any milk to the tea as the proteins in the milk can damage some of the tea’s goodness.

  • Try Classical Music
    A few years ago I discovered how much classical music could help my stress levels. I was driving home from a tough day at work and I changed the radio channel to the local classical mix by accident. Normally I would have changed it right away but that day I heard the inspiring violin of what I now know to be Vivaldi’s famous piece called “Winter”. I was hooked. 

Since that time I have experimented with all of the great classical composers; Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and so on. I have a particular love of Russian classical music which has a very distinct flavor.

Classical music is a really fantastic way to relax when you are feeling stressed and anxious at work. I recommend something that has a smooth violin sound or a melodic piano. Just chuck some on your iPod and listen to it when you feel like the office is starting to get you down.

  • Just Relax!
    A lot of us are addicted to stress. I know that sounds a little silly but in many cases it is true. We are addicted to being depressed and anxious and we have decided that being stressed is normal and therefore do nothing to combat it. 

And to make matters worse we go over things again and again in our head. We think that if we think about “why” we are stressed we will come to some lasting solution but in actual fact it just makes it worse. Ever time you think about the stress is just seems to add water into the whirlpool. Thinking about being stressed makes you more stressed!


In these times it is really handy to know the mantra “Just relax!” It sounds simple and probably a little bit silly but it is something you have to try to do. Just relax. Things aren’t that bad.

To help you accomplish this I want to share with you a very famous Buddhist teaching by an Indian master called Shantideva. It has helped me deal with stress and worry many times in my life:

“If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will be of no help.”

When we look at it logically there really is no reason to stress and worry. Remind yourself of this fact and just relax! It is amazing how powerful this can be if you really want to do it.

Stress is a part of life, there is no escaping it. But, like toothaches, body odor, and back pain, there are solutions. Meditating is one of them. Changing your perspective is another. If you can take one or two of the suggestions in this post and apply them to your own situation then you will be well on your way to relaxing at work when stress strikes.

Written on 12/18/2009 by The Daily Minder. Republished on 1/7/2010. Photo Credit: stephmcg

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