C’mon. We know you work long hours. That you have to deal with belligerent clients, difficult judges and a schedule so overbooked that you hardly have time to take a breath, much less a lunch break. But stop! Your work is not your life, so don’t let it override what matters most — your health, your time with friends and family, your sanity. Sure, there are days that you have no choice but to plow through at 180 miles an hour, but here is some advice for the rest of them.
1. Stop the caffeinated beverages by 10 a.m. Not only will this help you sleep better at night, but it will keep you from the roller-coaster highs and lows that caffeine fuels. Try sipping green tea or water with lemon or cucumber throughout the day, and eating small snacks as well. If you keep your blood sugar even, your energy will stay even, too. Some food suggestions: a handful of almonds, a dozen mini carrots, whole wheat crackers with peanut butter or low-fat cheese, or a small serving of unsweetened Greek yogurt.
2. Try some alternative mindfulness techniques. Most involve slowing down and breathing — giving your body and mind a tiny vacation and infusing it with a burst of oxygen. Andrew Weil, MD, recommends what he calls the 4-7-8 technique. You can do it anywhere to keep both stress and blood sugar levels in check. Inhale slowly for a count of four, keep the breath in for a count of seven, then exhale, making a “whoosh” sound for the count of eight. He recommends repeating it until you are feeling “peaceful.”
3. Build movement breaks into your day. Stop thinking that all exercise has to occur at the gym or in big chunks of time. Take a 10-minute walk, or at least stand up and stretch! Susan Gray, a Chicago-area wellness coach, suggests several: making big arm circles, one arm at a time, in both directions; rocking heel-to-toe on the feet; bringing chin to chest then each ear to each shoulder (to protect your neck, don’t make this a full circle — skip tilting your head back); and doing hip circles to loosen up your lower back. The point is to keep yourself in motion.
4. Find ways to break up the frenetic energy. It may push you on, but ultimately it saps your strength. So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or know that you are getting jangly, stop and get out into some green space. Identify an area near your office that you can frequent daily — or use as your stress release valve on the days that try your soul. Incorporate it into your routine. How about holding a meeting with colleagues there instead of the office or Starbucks?
5. Resolve to find a little bit of joy and delight in your work life every day! Start your morning by reading an inspirational blog or website … or even a snarky celebrity one if that makes you smile. Other ideas? Make a stress reduction playlist on your iPod, then install a dock in your office so you can play it while you work. Hang a picture of the most beautiful thing you have ever seen on the wall facing your desk. If nature soothes you, bring in a $5 bouquet each week, or install an extra fussy plant that you’ll need to tend to daily. The nurturing involved in keeping the plant alive will ultimately nurture you.
Bottom line: Stress relief doesn’t happen by accident; you need to be intentional with it and build a stress safety net into your life. As you can see, stress-reducers don’t need to be elaborate or time-consuming—but they do need to be there.