If done right, even a minute of not thinking about work can help you loosen up in the long run. And if you don't think you have time for a five-minute break, you may just be working too hard.
Here are 15 quick, easy tips that will hopefully rest your nerves, up your productivity and postpone the onset of ulcers.
1- Massage your temples
Think of it as massaging your brain, in a manner of speaking. Take your eyes off the computer screen, focus on something down the hall (this helps to ease the muscles that move your eyeballs) and try to relax your whole body. Breathe, and try to forget what you were just working on, even if only for a moment.
2- Listen to music
Whether it's something soothing that mellows you out or something hard and heavy, music is great for a quick escape. Try using headphones at your desk or sitting in your car during a break so you can have the tunes all to yourself. The more engaging it is for you, the more it will release your tension from work.
3- Change settings
Don't let your cubicle turn you into Milton from Office Space . Change your scenery a little bit by reading something standing up, or doing some work in the conference room. You'd be surprised how much even the slightest shift in spatial surroundings will positively affect your composure.
That's right, stretch. And I'm not simply referring to the "lean back in your chair," yawning, "boy I could sure use another cup of coffee" kind of stretching. Get out of your chair, find a little floor space, and work it like you were on the track team. Touch your toes, flex your calves, make little circles with your arms. The muscles of the body are interconnected so the more you stretch, the more the whole body relaxes.
5- Take a walk
It's best to get outside for some fresh air, but if limitations keep you indoors, even a stroll around the office will help you break the monotonous routine. Focus on moving parts of your leg and arm muscles that have been stationary all day. Even climbing a flight of stairs can do the trick.
Go to the gym, take a bike ride, go for a jog, or play catch outside with a co-worker. There's no doubt that one of the best contrasts for draining mental exertion is physical exertion. Upping your heart rate a little will get your blood flowing more quickly. Obviously, this one takes more than a few minutes -- so don't blame me if you Stairmaster yourself through a staff meeting.
7- Do something personal
Reply to an e-mail, return a personal phone call, or even handwrite a letter. Reminding yourself that you actually have a life beyond your cubicle is a nice reaffirmation. Also, thinking about a relationship or a fun event can provide a nice mental diversion, even if you only do so for a moment.
8- Have a cup of tea
As the world's second most popular beverage (the first is water), tea has to be good for you, right? Try the caffeine-free variety, unless you're a coffee addict, in which case you might need your little jolt. Tea helps digestion and is great for relaxation.
9- Eat something
A light snack is a nice sensory change from mental grunt work. Something with protein is best, as it is less likely to make you crave more snacks later in the day. Be forewarned that if you eat too much, you'll end up like a lion after it devours its wildebeest -- lazy!
10- Have a drink
Don't get carried away and don't make a habit of it, but a glass of wine or beer with lunch, or a splash of Baileys Irish Cream in your coffee during a break might be just what you need. Sometimes a slight glaze over your tense mood will help you relax and work more efficiently and calmly.
11- Read a comic strip
Anything that gives you a little intellectual stimulation outside of your usual professional mind-set is a good distraction. You'd be surprised how much a five-minute read will help alleviate stress and momentarily erase the nagging thoughts in your head between nine and five.
12- Plan your weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, or better yet your vacation time, can easily cheer you up. But don't get carried away, otherwise you'll end up despising your workday even more. Take a minute or two to imagine the beach or snuggling under the covers on Sunday morning and before you know it, you'll actually be doing it.
13- Freshen up
Take a trip to a secluded bathroom, roll up your sleeves, wash your hands, and splash some water onto your face. Get some cold water on your temples and on the back of your neck. Aside from being refreshing, cold water on the skin can awaken your senses.
14- Do something creative
Draw a cartoon, paint a little picture, take a photo, write a poem. This will remind you that your brain is capable of tasks other than the ones you repeat all day.
15- Run an errand
Go to the bank or the post office and do something for yourself. You can even pretend that the power drill at the hardware store or the new boxed set at the record shop is, for a few minutes anyway, more important than work.