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11 health, wellness, stress and mindfulness techniques you can do in the office

Most of us feel overwhelmed by life at times. Our day to day worlds are busy, work is a pressure and it can seem like we have stresses coming at us from every direction. To help manage in an ever-demanding world, there are some simple techniques you can learn to get you through the day.

Some are influenced by mindfulness meditation, a term used frequently to describe centring yourself in the here and now — quite literally — to how you feel, what is going on around you and where your body is in this moment.

Mindfulness exercises aren’t new though; its origins are from Buddhism more than 2,500 years ago, but revisited in the 1970s as part of a ‘mindfulness movement’. The practice involves being aware of your breath, body and the sensations you’re experiencing. In recent years, mindfulness practices have been incorporated into various mental health therapies and evidence suggests it can help to decrease depression.

If you feel stressed or overwhelmed — particularly at work — try some of these techniques for practicing mindfulness in the office, and feel the tension dissolve:

1. Turn off the radio

On your way into work, try turning off the radio and revel in the silence. We all have so much noise in our lives with a need to constantly check our phones. It can be overwhelming and overstimulating. As tempting as it is to be up to date with the morning’s news, just enjoy the journey. Take in the sound of any birds you hear if you open the window, people-watch, or even think of how your body feels while sitting in your car or train seat. 

2. Take a moment

Once you get into the office it’s easy to feel as though you need to turn on your computer and begin work before you have even taken your coat off. If your colleagues are already there, you can feel even more pressured. Stop. Take your coat off, put down your bag and sit down without turning on your computer. Think of your day ahead and what you hope to achieve. Perhaps rewrite your to-do list. Maybe write a separate list of tasks that need to be done but will not be achieved today. Call it tomorrow’s list and review it again the next day. When you are ready, then turn on your computer.

3. Say no

It can be hard to say no at work, especially if you are being given tasks by your manager. But learning to say no (politely) will help you to manage feelings of being overwhelmed about overbearing workloads - you’ll feel empowered, too. Use phrases like “I will have to say no to that now.” “This sounds like a great idea, but can we talk about this another time as I am currently finishing off some other work.” Or “Thank you for thinking of including me in this, but right now it is something I’m not able to commit to.”

4. Take a walk

Whether this is to work, during your lunch break or five minutes during your day — go for a walk. Walk to a different toilet, walk outside and breathe in the fresh air, walk up and down the stairs rather than taking the lift, or walk to the desk of someone you usually email. While you walk, take in your surroundings, and take in how it feels to walk, how your feet feel on the carpet or wooden floor. Take in that moment. Even a 10-minute brisk walk is believed to improve a person’s mental health.

5. Breathe

It may sound silly when you’re breathing all the time, but there is a real skill to deep breaths that can calm you like nothing else. Sit at your desk, relax and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose with your mouth closed. Now breathe out through your mouth and imagine a golden thread is spinning out of your mouth across the room. Exhale as fully as you can and think of the thread moving around the room. If you feel silly doing this at your desk — go to the toilet and try it in the privacy of the cubicle! Mindful breathing will help your body make the hormone oxytocin — the love and relaxation hormone — rather than adrenalin, which incites our fight or flight reactions.

6. Leave your desk at lunch

Even if there’s a culture of people working through lunch, buck the trend, get up from your desk and go outside. Even if you feel too pressured to take an hour, move to the staff room or another area in the office and take at least 20 minutes. You will be re-energised when you return to your desk.

7. Take and give a compliment

A compliment brightens anyone’s day — so tell a colleague how much you liked their work on a project, or what a great idea they had. If another colleague pays you a compliment say thank you. A compliment will boost your confidence and feeling of worth at work, helping you to maintain positive mental well-being.

8. Pause

Allow yourself five minutes to pause, take your surroundings and concentrate on the present moment. Try counting down from 10. Focus on counting and think of nothing else. It will help you calm down and reduce the surge of adrenalin you may be feeling. Think about the way your body feels without changing your position. How does your body feel against your chair? How does your back and neck feel? What about your hands, face, legs? Can you feel the pressure of the floor on your feet? This is known as a body scan. The more you practise centring yourself in the present moment, the easier mindfulness will become. 

9. Set up your work station properly

While you’re thinking about how you are sitting in your chair, are you as comfortable as you could be? Maybe you should check your work station. In general, your screen should be at eye level, about an arms-length away, and your chair should be adjustable to support your back. Ask the office manager to help if necessary.

10. Drink water, avoid sugar

We all know it is better to drink water, cut back on coffee and eat more fruit and vegetables. It can be hard to keep up healthy habits, but in the morning or afternoon (or both if you are able), stop for a moment before making your usual cup of coffee and choose to have a glass of water. Try this when you reach for a sugary snack too. You may feel like the sugar surge will give you an energy boost, but the quick win will be followed by a crash about 30 minutes later. Consuming a lot of sugar causes your levels of insulin and stress-reducing hormones to elevate, leading to a drop in blood sugar that can make you feel sluggish. If you’re hungry, boost your mid-afternoon lull with a banana, which has a slower release of energy, helping avoid a peak then a drop.

11. Try deskercise

Many of us sit all day at our desks. Back pain, carpal tunnel and weight gain are some of the problems caused by hours of sitting in the same position. One way to relieve neck and back tension is through some simple stretches or deskercise! A quick routine could include tricep stretches, overhead reaches, torso rotations, hamstring stretches and shoulder shrugs.

It may not be possible to try all the tips and exercises above in one day, but aim for at least three. Access to health and wellness support is essential for expats, as living and working abroad can come with added pressure. Advice such as the mindfulness technique above can help you reduce stress at work and maintain a health work-life balance. Learn more about safeguarding your mental health as an expatriate.

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