5 ways to stay alert and beat stress at work

Mental agility is something we all need to do our jobs well. Yet most of us experience a slump at some point during the day. Employee wellbeing programmes should include simple tips and tricks to keep us relaxed and alert, so here are a few suggestions. From mindfulness to movement, there’s something for everyone to reduce stress and stay focused.

  1. Get out of the groove you’re in. Most of us are creatures of habit. Often we know what we should do, but we don’t do it, so this first tip impacts on all the others. Choose to make a few small changes to your daily routine. Like salt on a meal, they may look insignificant, but they make a big difference to the flavour of your day.
  2. Make sure you move. Sounds really obvious, doesn’t it? But if your job is deskbound, it’s so easy to get into the habit of staying put. Make it a discipline to walk somewhere every half hour, even if it’s just to the other end of the office and back. Set your phone as a reminder, or ask a colleague to do it with you so you can remind each other. Most of us can only sustain attention for around half an hour on any chosen task, so give yourself a break and notice how just a small change can reduce tension and freshen your attention.
  3. Exercise at your desk. If you really can’t get up and walk, then take a few moments to stretch. Here are a few simple, unobtrusive movements (but please take responsibility for your own health and take medical advice if you have joint problems).
  • Rotate your head slowly to the left and hold it for a couple of seconds, then to the right. Repeat a few times.
  • Rotate your shoulders slowly backwards, then forwards, a few times.
  • Drop your head back and look slightly to the right up at the ceiling, then to the left. Repeat a few times.

Neckache is a common by-product of deskwork so not only will these simple movements keep you alert, they’ll help to prevent your neck from seizing up too.

  1. Do the work you least want to do first. If you’re a procrastinator, the chances are you’ll avoid those unappealing or daunting tasks and only get around to them when your energy is beginning to wane. Get them out of the way first thing, and let your natural interest in the things you want to do pick you up later in the day.
  2. Practise mindfulness. For some, mindfulness is a buzzword that means sitting on a cushion in the lotus position with the waft of incense nearby. But it can be done anywhere, and evidence is mounting that regular practice really does improve brain functioning.

One study shows that mindfulness practice ‘is associated with changes in grey matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.’1

If you’ve never tried mindfulness then it’s best to get some instruction, but here are a few tips on how it can be used at work.

  • Next time you perform a mundane task like washing your hands, give it your full attention. What does the water feel like? Is it hot, cool or cold? What does the soap smell like? Is it slippery, hard, liquid? How is the feel of warm air on your hands – is it uniform, or does it change? Or if you use a towel, what is the sensation like? How would you describe it in detail to someone who’s never dried their hands before?
  • At your desk, pause every so often to switch off your mind and notice what your senses are telling you. Are you hot or cold? What can you hear? If your hands are touching the desk or keyboard, what does that feel like? Are there aches in your body anywhere? Is there any tension? Are you hungry or thirsty? And so on…
  • Do the same thing outside. Go for a walk, change the scene and use your senses to become fully aware of everything around you. What can you see, feel, hear and smell? Just list everything – it’s that simple. You’ll also be getting a lift from some natural daylight and fresh air.

The intention is not to change anything you notice, but simply to observe it. Normally we have a constant stream of mental ‘chatter’ going on (‘I’m hungry, I need a drink, it’s my turn to make the tea, must buy some tea on the way home, never have time to do the shopping, must go to the gym….’), and this is what drains us of energy.

Slowing down and paying attention to the small details of a single action without that running commentary teaches us to be much more present. Ultimately this leads to the kind of results shown in the study.

These are just a few ideas to reduce stress, boost alertness and promote wellbeing at work. If you’d like to find out more about how to energise employees and build simple tips into your wellbeing programme, then please contact us.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/