I was awake each morning last week earlier than the morning before, and in fairness, I didn’t need to be awake that early (or even an hour after that!), but I was at EAIgnite, had a full schedule, and had a long list of deliverables.
Which meant I rolled over, grabbed my laptop, and started to work without guilt. I rationalized that if I went back to sleep (which would not happen), I’d feel much guiltier later in the day. While I didn’t feel guilty for working long hours, I told myself several times that this is not balance and I need to find ways to build in stress solutions in my daily life choices.
I saw I was not alone when I went to breakfast each morning. Many admins were sitting with their laptops working while eating. They also had deliverables that were due while they were attending a conference.
That’s real life. We have deadlines that continue even if we travel, in a meeting, workshop, or even on vacation. We want our vacation as much as we need to meet our deadlines. Even my personal deadlines are on my mind at 5:30 am (it is tax season, after all!).
We all need a “toolkit” of ideas on how we can destress when deadlines and pressures are high. It isn’t reasonable for me to get eight hours of sleep each night (my plane didn’t get me home until 1 am, and I have meetings and deadlines today!). I know what I’m supposed to do, but what happens when I can’t?
We need options and not guilt. Here are some simple and effective ways to destress and relax that are portable (you can do many of them at your desk, in your car, on the couch, or in your next board meeting).
- Get moving. If you can exercise regularly (I am not saying you must exercise every day), a regular exercise you enjoy: yoga, walking, tai chi, dancing, or even gardening qualifies. When you do an activity you enjoy, it releases endorphins that soothe the brain and body. You likely know that while I love to run, my knees don’t love me to run, but when I do run, I have a rush of those endorphins that is a high. It isn’t reasonable (nor recommended for my knees) to run every day, so I need to make a point to keep my step count up, stretch, and find an exercise I look forward to doing a few times a week.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness activities like meditation, deep Breathing, and journaling can help you relax and switch off deadlines or pressures. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that involves paying close attention to the present moment. It helps to cultivate an attitude of being aware, attentive, and non-judgmental.
- Social time: Spend quality time with people who are important to you and spend time engaging in activities you enjoy together. The good news is that our social circle likes to golf, meaning I can hit the exercise and social checklists. However, like you, I am often guilty of having too much to do that I can’t always find the time to spend with all my friends or on the golf course. My solution? I booked ladies’ golf on Monday evenings. While I know my travel won’t allow me to attend every week, this forces me to get the social time and the exercise I need.
- Nature therapy: Research has shown that spending time in nature can help to reduce stress. Reconnect with nature – take a stroll in the woods or enjoy the night sky – and reap its calming benefits. Perhaps we can get nature therapy and exercise by taking a walk in the evenings after work (putting the babies or animals in a stroller). The fresh outdoor air can do wonders, so even sit outside after your workday and enjoy the sounds of nature. Cardinals are my favorite bird song. Do you know your favorite bird?
- Spend time doing meaningful activities: Do things unrelated to work or stress. Paint, read, cook, listen to music, or volunteer for a cause you believe in. These activities will give you a sense of purpose and joy.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a two-step process that involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body. It helps to reduce stress and tension by getting the body used to tensing and releasing muscles.
- Body scan: A body scan is an exercise that focuses on relaxing the body and mind. Start by taking slow, deep breaths and scanning different body parts while picturing a wave of relaxation moving from your head to your toes. It is different from PMR, but it works well. I do this when I’m in bed at night. Warren can feel when I tense my muscles, and I don’t want to interrupt his sleep, so instead, I do a body scan.
- Guided Imagery is a relaxation technique that uses visualization to relax the body and mind. It teaches us to use the power of our imagination to find stillness, peace, and harmony.
- Mindful Eating means paying close attention to the process of eating and being mindful of the taste and texture of the food. It can help you to become more aware of what you’re eating and how it makes your body feel. So often, we eat at our desks or use our phones or laptop alongside our meals. I was completely guilty last week, and as I list all the things we can do to destress, I’m a little annoyed at myself for not putting my phone or laptop away while eating. Even if I was playing games and not working, I was not eating mindfully.
- Laughter. Find something that makes you smile or laugh during the day. It could be family photos on your screensaver or wallpaper, a chuckle from a funny post online, or a memory from your timeline. Be sure to join my Facebook page as I list something funny to start your day each morning at 8 am ET.
- Find joy. It could be listening to your favorite music, having a hot cup of tea or coffee, taking a bath, shopping, chocolate, watching a sunset, getting a massage, or petting your pet.
- Journaling. It can help you process mental clutter and help you find clarity and calm.
Breathing exercises are an essential part of destressing. By controlling the breath, we can influence our nervous system and help relax the body and mind.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing requires you to place one hand on your stomach and take a slow, deep breath, counting to four. As you inhale, press your hand against your stomach so that it expands and rises. Pause for two seconds, then exhale slowly, counting to four and lightly pressing your stomach inward.
- Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, is a breathing technique that helps bring balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Put one finger over alternate nostrils and take deep, slow breaths.
- Belly Breathing helps stimulate the vagus nerve and can help relax the body and the mind. Start by sitting or lying comfortably and place one hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath and let your belly expand, counting to four. Exhale and let your stomach contract, counting to four.
- Sitting Meditation is a great way to be mindful and reduce stress that you can do at work. Find a comfortable position, focus on your breath, and notice the sensations in your body without judging or trying to change them.
We always need to be destressing, so we must continually find ways to keep our stress levels in check, our deadlines met, and our bodies balanced.
Choose activities that make you feel good and bring you joy. Prioritize your healthy eating and ensure you get to bed so that you can sleep as regularly as possible.
Ultimately remind yourself that you must be alive to deliver the deadlines you are responsible for. Take care of your body, mind, and soul so that you can take care of everyone and everything else!