Chill Out: 7 Quick Steps You Can Take Now To De-Stress
Summer is approaching and possibly with it the promise of a well-needed vacation.
But many of us may be in need of a real break from work and stress now. The good news is you can have a mini-chill any time of day and get back to doing, hopefully feeling refreshed and invigorated.
“From early on — usually before we’ve even started our careers — we’re told about a magical thing called ‘work-life balance.’ Essentially, this myth amounts to the idea that if we do everything right, we will somehow be able to achieve the elusive equilibrium of having a fulfilling and meaningful career, while keeping up an active social life, and being the ideal partner and family member. In reality, though, this perfect ‘balance’ is nearly impossible to achieve,” writes Elizabeth Yuko in Thrive Global.
Forbes reports, “It’s also no wonder that more than half of employees report feeling overworked, citing longer than 40-hour work weeks necessary just to stay afloat in a job market with faster turnaround times and lower job security. In an environment that seems to demand more and more of workers and bosses alike, burnout has become epidemic.”
At Take The Lead, we get it about getting it all done, meeting your goals and accomplishing your intentions.
We also get it that sometimes you need to press pause without big plans, reservations, spending money or even involving others. Here are 7 ways to have a brief break immediately — and by yourself — in order to chill out enough to be able to get back to the tasks and the goals at hand.
1.Take a Tech-Free Night. Unplug your phone, don’t do email, don’t work on your laptop, don’t download a movie, and avoid all screens. Yes, if you have children, make sure you know they are home safe, or if they are older, make sure they know you are taking a few hours off and how to reach you in a true emergency. Forbes reports, “It’s not always easy, but taking a step back is the best way to open up the creative space necessary in today’s business world. Tomorrow’s economy is knowledge-based, which means deeper thinking, innovation and creativity aren’t just nice-to-have skills; they are need-to-have competitive advantages. While it might feel good to check small administrative tasks off your to-do list, every minute spent handling work someone else could do is a minute not devoted to the next big idea.”
2. Walk It Out. Even if you just get away from your desk or laptop to walk around your office, take a physical brisk walk up and down the halls or around the block. Research supports the benefits to your brain. “Ten minutes of mild, almost languorous exercise can immediately alter how certain parts of the brain communicate and coordinate with one another and improve memory function, according to an encouraging new neurological study. The findings suggest that exercise does not need to be prolonged or intense to benefit the brain and that the effects can begin far more quickly than many of us might expect,” Gretchen Reynolds writes in the New York Times. “The findings show that exercise can change people’s brains and minds right away, without requiring weeks of working out. Even better, the exertion required can be so slight as to allow almost anyone, even those who are out of shape or possibly disabled, to complete the exercise.” Michael Yassa, the director of the U.C. Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, tells Reynolds, “We are not talking about marathons. It looks like people can improve their memories with a short walk or an easy session of something like yoga or tai chi.”
3. Read poetry. The beauty of poetry offers benefits from relaxation to enhancing critical thinking and empathy. According to Pen and The Pad, “The immediate benefits of reading poetry are improvements to vocabulary and verbal dexterity. Poetry acquaints the reader with unfamiliar terms and encourages verbal analysis. Poetry improves critical thinking by forcing a reader to think. In great poetry, meaning is not obvious or one-dimensional. As the currency of social interaction, language shapes an individual’s experience of the world. The critical thinking skills developed through reading poetry give greater control over language itself.” In case you need some suggestions on poetry collections, Bustle has done that for you with nine collections you can read on your lunch break.
4. Take an art break. If all you have time for is doodling at your desk, fine. Mastery is not the goal, but observing and creating is. No matter if you sketch the view from your window, or even the window itself, it is helpful to your state of mind to escape through creativity and observation. Semir Zeki, of University College London, researches the neurobiology of beauty and tells Brain World, “In our studies, we found that whenever subjects experienced beauty, regardless of whether it was from a musical or visual source, the experience always correlated with activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (specific area of the brain.) In that sense, there is an abstract quality to beauty in that it doesn’t have to be tied to any particular medium. If you experience a face or a vase as beautiful, you will get activity in (that area of the brain).”Also, The International Arts and Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins isworking with Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions on research that shows artistic expression can mitigate trauma, stress and augment healing and recovery.
5. Listen to music. You certainly do not need catchy music that will become an ear worm and have the lyrics in your head all day as a distraction. You need something soothing. According to CT Post, “As Eric Stensvaag wrote in a blog post for music platform Feed.fm, ‘Over the past half-century, countless studies have shown the positive correlation between music and activities as diverse as exercise and shopping. Music’s ability to help us perform better and ‘stick it out’ is a behavioral result. Listening to (and making) music has been proven to reduce garden-variety stress and treat specific mental health Listening to music helps release dopamine in the brain, relieving stress and helping us feel more motivated, even happy, while we work. Studies have further shown that listening to music can help us work faster and generate new ideas.’” Additionally, Melissa Chu notes in Medium “that music without lyrics, such as classical music or music from a film soundtrack, is generally better at improving mood and concentration.”
6. Write in your journal. The mental and physical health benefits of journaling are noteworthy and profound. As I wrote in my book, Writing To Save Your Life, “Writing is just talking on paper. If you believe that simple concept and if you tell yourself that writing is only talking to yourself, you can eliminate the first 500 excuses for not writing.“ Additionally, “You will feel the impact of your writing without ever showing it to another soul. You need to ignite your power and permit yourself to tell the truth, the real truth, the sometimes ugly truth. It is that truth that holds your power.”
7. Treat yourself to nature. It may be as simple as walking onto the terrace of your apartment, sitting on your back porch or eating lunch in a park near your office. The Minneapolis Post reports, “Forest bathing emphasizes the healing power of nature. First developed in Japan in the 1980s as a way to combat extreme stress and rising suicide rates among overburdened workers, it has become a cornerstone of the country’s preventative health and healing practices. For modern people who are often detached from nature, an invitation to closely observe and interact with the outside world opens new avenues of personal exploration and creativity, says Pamela Wirth, a certified forest therapy guide and mentor based in Santa Rosa, Calif. ‘Being immersed in nature can really help us to open our perspective, to be much wider and have more access to our own higher intelligence. Life is simple for one-to-two hours. It can have a profound effect.’”
In her new book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell writes: “In an environment completely geared toward capitalist appropriation of even our smallest thoughts, doing this isn’t any less uncomfortable than wearing the wrong outfit to a place with a dress code. Doing nothing is hard.”
But try at least for a brief respite to do it anyway.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com