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
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
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
"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
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.
If you're angry about a deadline or some remark someone made,
your breathing is probably swift and shallow. The key is to reach down to the
bottom of your lungs and drag out all the stale air. Do this by pushing out
your stomach, rather than chest, when you inhale. Then squeeze all the air out,
out, out, until you almost gasp. Then in again, abdomen out. Try it!