The phones, the caffeine, the boss, dinging faxes, deadlines, doubling up for laid-off colleagues, fear of being laid-off yourself -- eeek, pretty soon your body is a clenched fist and you haven't stood up from the desk in hours!
You need to relax. But who can remember to -- and who has time? You do! It only takes five minutes.
On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...
If you are constantly stressed, according to Nick Hall, PhD, director of the Wellness Center at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., you need to do as many things as possible to address both the effects and the causes.
Herbert Benson, MD, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and president of the Mind-Body Medical Institute in Boston, says the opposite of the stress response is the relaxation response. He suggests a quick mantra meditation when you feel yourself breathing shallowly and tensing up.
"There are two things to remember about this," he says. "First, repetition is the key, and second, when you feel other thoughts coming -- and they will -- you must let them pass by and not address them."
Here's what you do: At your desk, close your eyes, consciously relax your muscles, breathe in slowly and on the exhalation, say a meaningful word. For some, Benson says, this word may be "Love." For a Catholic, it could be "Hail Mary, filled with grace." For a Jew, "Shalom." For a Buddhist or Hindu, "Ohm." It's up to you.
Breathe in, say the word silently while breathing out. When thoughts come, let them drift past. Do this for three or four minutes, open your eyes, and get back to work. Benson recommends doing this each morning before breakfast, too, for more than 10 minutes, but less than 20 minutes. This will set the practice in your mind, so when you need it at work, it will produce relief almost immediately.
Hall has another way of causing the body to unclench itself. And that's by making it even more stressed! Run up a flight of stairs, he says. Put demands on your body -- this will trigger the same pathways in the brain and nervous system as stress does and fool the body into thinking it needs to go into recovery. Hall even suggests dropping down in your cubicle and ripping off 10 pushups.
The Johns Hopkins cardiology department also recommends full-body relaxation by muscle group. Tense your facial muscles for five seconds, then relax. Then neck and shoulders. Work your way down. Shaking your arms and legs like a wet dog is also recommended.