Step Off, Stress

By April Cumming – September 1, 2014

The pace is go, go, go all day and then it hits: a wave of quiet desperation washes over and all you really want in life is rest. In a pitch-black room. On a bed with your name on it.

“It seems that everyone’s more stressed with increasingly less time for traditional stress busters like a two-hour lunch, let alone a weekend getaway—and certainly not the two-week beach basks common in generations past,” said Carolyn Dixon, a licensed clinical social worker and anxiety counselor with Abundant Life Counseling Services in Austin. “When you are stressed out, we all need ways to reel it back in so it doesn’t overwhelm us. But stress is something that is managed, not conquered.”

Here are 12 things to help realistically de-compress and re-energize—all within five minutes—without having to check out of the office (or be overly dramatic). “There are no magic pills [for stress relief],” said Dixon, “but at least these solutions have no side effects.”

1. Focus on your breathing

Close your eyes and picture a peaceful image—something that takes you away from work assignments and schedules (i.e. a beach, a fern-lined creek, clouds floating in the sky) and inhale slowly and deeply, feeling your lungs expand. Breathe in for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3. Swallow, release the tongue from the roof of the mouth, soften your facial muscles, and relax your shoulders. Repeat this process.

2. Turn off the lights

Incorporate more natural light into the workspace. This may be as simple as flipping a switch and opening up the blinds. If there are no windows, consider buying a natural light lamp, which offers full-spectrum light. 

3. Listen to a relaxing song

Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and listen to soothing music. Focus all attention on the song and away from the stresses of the day. Try to relax both body and mind.

4. Read uplifting quotes

It may sound counterintuitive, but the computer can provide a few minutes of relaxation for the brain. Take a break from work by visiting a site such as and typing in the name of a favorite author, actor, or sports role model to find quotes that refresh with humor, wisdom, and inspiration.

5. Download an “escape image”

Run a Google Image search on that dream destination you’ve been fantasizing about and save a picturesque scene as new desktop wallpaper. Or find stress-free images by using key phrases like “National Parks,” “nature,” “travel,” or “beaches.”

6. Stretch it out

Physical activity is the ultimate stress reliever, but it’s often an unattainable option for those tied to a desk all day or short on free time. “[It] is no doubt a helpful medicine for stress management, but [physical activity is] not the cure-all,” Dixon said. “Sweating it out should be seen as a supplement to other means of managing stress.”

Jessica Buss, an anxiety specialist and psychologist with Integrative Psychological Services in Austin, recommends taking five minutes out of each day to practice yoga poses. “You don’t have to take an entire class to reap the benefits of stretching that yoga offers. Whether you are in your office or at home, shut the door and practice some poses. If you do not do yoga, focus on stretching different parts of your body for a minute at a time (or for five to ten breaths).”

7. Step away from the desk

Even if for only three minutes, step out of the office or take a short drive. If possible, listen to soothing music or a favorite pump-it-up piece. A change of scenery can push the reset button on stress.

8. Get carried away

A spontaneous stroll through a lavender field might sound refreshing, but the likelihood of this happening on a weekday afternoon is on par with MoPac being free of traffic at 5 p.m. Instead, get a whiff of herbal fragrances like lavender, eucalyptus, fern, and vanilla from handcrafted lotions or candles.

9. Take time for fun with Fido

Never underestimate the power of unconditional love that comes from furry, four-legged friends. A good laugh often goes along with pet playtime, and that never hurts.

10. Make a checklist

Do a brain-dump, writing out everything to tackle or enjoy for the day. Then, prioritize the tasks from greatest to least importance, or earliest to latest deadline. Check them off as completed.

According to Dixon, organizing the day is an effective way to prevent stress from building up; there are often too many goals, tasks, and demands to be handled or fit into one day. “Let go of the pressure of getting it all done,” she said, “and know that by prioritizing, you are accomplishing the most important tasks.”

11. Replace “stinking thinking”

What is “stinking thinking”? Dixon defined it as comments such as, “I will never get all of this done.” Substitute negative, pessimistic self-talk with healthy thinking: “What really matters is getting the most important things done.”

12. Call to say “I love you”

Pick up the phone and connect with a special someone. Make the human contact rather than sending a voiceless email or text. Because, after all, love is all we really need. Right? 

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