The alarm goes off. You press snooze. You’re so tired…just a few more minutes. AWAKE! I overslept. I have 10 minutes to get ready before I’m supposed to be at the office. Adrenaline shoots through your body and propels you into the shower. You make it out the front door in a miraculous 12 minutes. No morning ritual hot tea. So, you pick up a coffee on the go. Walking into the building, the heel of your shoe catches, and you drop the coffee. People around you glare angrily, wiping coffee from their shoes. Adrenaline pours through your system as you clean up the coffee and collect your things. You just want to get to my desk. You sit at your desk…finally…trying to breathe normally.
You open Facebook and see that you were left out of a fun girls night. Adrenaline floods your body again. You get lost in your thoughts. A meeting reminder pops up, and you have 15 minutes to get focused to give a big presentation. More adrenaline again swarms your body. You bring up the file you prepared yesterday and read through the info. The five-minute notification pops up. It’s time. You don’t usually stress about meetings, but you’re so stressed you just can’t relax.
WHAT IS HAPPENING!
The stress response is not all bad. That adrenaline-laced response, also called fight or flight, causes us to pull away from a hot iron. It helps keep us safe. But, when we operate in a constant state of stress and adrenaline, our bodies have a difficult time relaxing.
Dr. Kristen Race, PhD, and founder of Mindful Life, talks about the stress response of the body in her TEDx talk.
Dr. Race says that we start at a baseline of being relaxed, and in that state the prefrontal cortex and logical, decision-making part of our brain is in charge. But, when something triggers the stress response, our faster, emotional limbic system responds.
Emotional doesn’t typically equal rational. With this flooding of chemicals like adrenaline in our bodies, it takes the brain nearly 20 minutes to re-establish communication with the rational, prefrontal cortex after a stress response occurs.
Eventually, your baseline will change. You will no longer operate in the relaxed, logical part of your brain. Instead, anything can cause a stress response. Someone asks a question and you snap in response. Maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon. Ever had a time where you overreacted and weren’t sure why?
Luckily our brains are trainable. If you don’t take a little time to stop the cycle, it will continue. The longer we go without taking time and the more distractions we use to make us feel better, the further we are from getting the relaxation and relief we truly desire. Maybe you’re thinking like Jessie Spano, “No time! There’s never any time!” And it’s true, we fill our days to the MAX.
But, training our brains and bodies to relax can take as little as 60 seconds.
Tips to Reduce Stress at Work
So what would I do with those “hypothetical” 5 minutes in the stressful story above? Here’s how I chose to handle it.
I took a 1-minute for a Square Breath (keep reading below for details), 3 minutes for a bathroom break, and I made it to my meeting one minute early. One minute a few times a day will start the retraining of the response of the brain. Just one minute will help you relax.
When I’m stressed and strapped for time, I practice gratitude, listening, and breathing. I frequently hear the phrase “observe your breathing,” which is great. And at the same time doesn’t always equate to something actionable for me. So, here’s an easy 60-second breath that has helped me. It’s called Square Breath. I’ve heard it from several different yoga instructors and psychologists. Here’s how it works:
Inhale through your nose for 3 seconds.
Hold the breath in for 3 seconds.
Exhale through your nose for 3 seconds.
Hold the breath out for 3 seconds.
Repeat 3-5 times.