It´s no secret that a healthy mind and body increases the length and quality of life, helping us along the road to success and ultimately bringing more meaning and joy to our lives… With over half our lives spent at work, the challenges to living a healthy happy life are many. With the ever growing pressure of deadlines, an overload of information from all angles, not to mention the constant strive for perfection; are all factors which can quickly lead to stress and anxiety – all of which will in turn affect our productivity, especially at our workplace. Meals are far too often rushed and eaten on the go, or not at all, which also affects our energy levels. It all becomes this endless, vicious circle; and with too many of us being so time poor, how can we even begin to find a healthy balance?
I am super excited to be sharing these 16 Habits to Help you Feel More Energised at Work from iamYiam, a leader in the field of preventive health and wellbeing through science-proven Natural Therapies. All of the below habits can easily be put into practice during your working day, to reduce stress and lift your mood.
1. BREATHING AT ITS BEST
We all know how to breathe, right? We´re surely experts at it by now it. Well, no, actually. Most of the time our breathing is shallow, constricted by poor posture and, of course, automatic. Giving focus and attention to the rhythm of our breathing calms the mind and body, and is a simple yet highly effective means of relieving stress.
Step 1: Place your tongue on your palate, just behind your teeth. Breathe in through your nose for the count of 4.
Step 2: Hold your breath for the count of 7.
Step 3: With a very slight constriction of the throat, exhale through your mouth, over the count of 8. Listen to the sound of your breath. Repeat 10 times. You should feel measurably calmer after only a few minutes, and this simple breathing technique can immediately help reduce anxiety.
2. MIND OVER MUSCLE
Did you know muscle is three times more metabolically active at rest than fat? Relaxation is incompatible with muscle tension, so when tension and anxiety become so chronic, we literally forget what a relaxed state physically feels like. The below exercise is especially effective in decreasing blood pressure to more healthy levels, and the best of all; you can do it at the very comfort of your own desk…
Step 1: Remove shoes and take five deep breaths. Become aware of your body as you are sitting.
Step 2: Squeeze a specific muscle group – such as your left foot, by tensing toes downwards – as hard as you can. Feel the tension and, hold for 5 seconds.
Step 3: Quickly relax the muscles, while exhaling. As the muscles go limp, really feel that difference between tension and release. Repeat the exercise with other muscle groups, left and right side separately. Progressively move up to calves, thighs, hands, arms. Then address stomach, chest, neck & shoulders, jaw, and eyes.
The blood will flow more easily round your body and you should feel an immediate uplift in your mood and energy.
3. MAXIMISE ON MOVEMENT
In a lifetime, the average person will spend at least 90,000 hours working. For many adults that is one third to one half of their waking hours at work. For most office jobs this is likely to mean endless hours seated at a desk. But several hours in one position will eventually lead to back pain and numerous other health issues. Doing some kind of movement every hour however, can not only help with your overall energy levels, but also burn an 1,000 additional calories a week.
Step 1: Pick a regular, natural pause in the day, such as going for a tea break or popping to the loo – and make that the time you do your short, mini-exercise – perhaps take a 5 minute walk around the office or outside.
Step 2: Systematic reminders to help engrain the habit. This could be simply a post-it note on your workstation, or perhaps a recurring reminder on your digital calendar asking ‘have you moved in the last hour?’ This will help keep you on track.
Step 3: Do your squats! Get out of your chair, squat down until your bottom is nearly touching your ankles and hold that position with your back straight and feet flat. Wait for 30 seconds to a minute until you feel all those muscles you don’t use while sitting come to life. Learn to love your glutes (they don’t appreciate being sat on all day).
4. DO MORE YOGA!
Yoga, in all its numerous forms, can transform your life, from your physical well-being to your mental outlook. In the words of Dr. Natalie Nevins, osteopath, physician and yoga teacher: “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centres attention; and sharpens concentration.” Another benefit? Yoga will increase flexibility by 35% after just 8 weeks of practice.
Step 1: If after-work yoga does not appeal, consider devoting one or two lunchtimes per week to a 45-minute yoga session near your office. A comfortable top and pair of leggings will do.
Step 2: If your workplace does not already offer yoga as an employee benefit, perhaps you could approach your boss or HR department about providing yoga classes at work.
Step 3: Bring your yoga mat to work, find a quite space or room – hop onto your laptop and your favourite YouTube Yogi (I love Yoga with Adriene) and do your thing!
5. THE POWER OF POSTURE
Body language influences not only how others react to you, but shapes how you feel about yourself. Yet much of our time is spent head down, hunched over our desks, making ourselves look and feel small. Experiments by social psychologist Amy Cuddy have shown that just two minutes of “power poses” can alter our hormonal balance, raising our levels of testosterone (dominance) and lowering cortisol (stress).
Step 1: Bring awareness to the way you are sitting. Sit up with your spine straight and shoulders back. This in term will open your lungs, allowing you to breathe deeply.
Step 2: Assume the occasional “power pose”: throw out your arms, stretch out your legs and make expansive gestures. Hold that “power pose” for two minutes.
Step 3: Smile! This is the simplest and quickest technique for triggering feelings of happiness (don’t worry if you think you look ridiculous – who cares!).
6. HEAD & SHOULDERS ABOVE THE REST
Your head is designed to sit on top of your spine – not to project forward, tortoise-like. But long hours spent hunched over a desk can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders, which can also be a source of headaches, clouding your thoughts and interfering with concentration. These very simple exercises will loosen muscles and ease any aches or pains and should be an essential part of daily routine for anyone spending more than a few hours at desk.
Step 1: For a simple neck exercise – gently tilt your head, so that your left ear approaches your left shoulder. You should feel a light stretch. Hold for a count of 10. Now repeat on your right side. Do not strain.
Step 2: For a simple shoulder stretch – raise shoulders towards your ears until slight tension is felt across tops of shoulders. Hold for a slow count of 10. Repeat 3 – 5 times.
Step 3: For a shoulder roll – sit with your back supported and slowly roll shoulders up and backwards in circular motion. Repeat 10 times.
7. DRINK UP
The average adult human is composed of approximately 60% water, but did you realise the brain is made up of about 75% water? Water supports the function of every single cell in our bodies and is vital for circulating nutrients and flushing out toxins. No wonder then, that dehydration can cause constipation and headaches – neither of which are very helpful at work; as a hydrated system will help with your concentration.
Step 1: Start your day hydrated with a large glass of lukewarm water with a dash of lemon, kickstarting your digestion, clearing your head and setting you up for the day.
Step 2: Keep your bottle close. If water is there, you’ll probably drink it. Invest in a BPA free water bottle that you can fill up at home and keep drinking when on the go.
Step 3: Find the taste of water boring? Try infusing your water with slices of fresh cucumber, lemon or ginger. Herbal teas are another great way of hydrating (I love Peppermint, Fennel, Roobois & Dandelion tea). Getting up from your desk every few hours to brew a pot of tea can be a welcome break from work, while drinking plenty of fluids can help keep any boredom-induced hunger at bay.
8. LOVE YOUR LUNCHBOX
The ease and temptation of convenience foods is oh so easy to succumb to, as we tell ourselves it saves time and money. But does it really? For the odd £4.00 price of a sandwich + + (never mind the ‘extras’), you can prepare a tasty, healthy, balanced meal that will boost your energy, with little extra effort.
Step 1: Treat yourself to a lunch box you like the look of. Then buy some sealable plastic tubs to fit inside.
Step 2: Embrace leftovers. Make big batches of food at the weekends and keep in the fridge for quick lunches throughout the week. Each morning, put a portion into a tub, and add to it your choice of herbs and toppings – get creative. Where possible include healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, soy), omega 3 (salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies), flavonoid-rich foods (garlic, onions, purple grapes, berries), calcium-rich foods (yoghurt, cheese, leafy greens, almonds, seaweed) and fibre-rich foods (beans, vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts).
Step 3: Throw something from your fruit bowl into your lunch box. Potassium, which can lower blood pressure at work, is plentiful in bananas.
9. DITCH THE SWEET STUFF
Sugar IS the greatest villain in our diet. Stress and sugar cravings form a vicious circle as the initial high of the sugar rush is followed by a crash in energy. Many low fat foods promoted as healthy-eating options actually contain more sugar than their “full fat” equivalents – in some cases more than five times as much (when they remove fat, they use more sugar and salt). So be very careful here. Even glucose, agave nectar, fructose and even certain types of honey isn’t as innocent as labels may have us believe. Sugar remains sugar by any of its 58 names, and excess sugar in any form is damaging to the body.
Step 1: Ditch the carbonated, sweetened drinks. You should drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. So, if you weigh 150lbs (68kg), drink 75oz of water (that’s 3.75 pints). If you find the taste boring, try flavouring it with fresh mint, ginger or cucumber.
Step 2: Start reading labels and choose more wisely!
Step 3: Remember most alcohol contains a significant amount of sugar, so be mindful when consuming.
10. MINDFUL SNACKING
We tend to eat when we are bored, anxious, or in search of procrastination. When we are in a negative state of mind, it is rarely kale we reach for (!). If you have to snack try to be mindful and try to snack on foods rich in vitamins and minerals, as these will boost your energy and focus.
Step 1: Clear your desk drawers of tempting naughty snacks. What the eye doesn’t see, the hand doesn’t reach for!
Step 2: If you must snack, nibble instead on nutrient-rich seeds or mixed nuts.
Step 3: If you are craving something sweet, opt for fresh fruit or dried apricots, cranberries, raisins or figs.
11. CONSIDER SUPPLEMENTS TO COMBAT STRESS
The longer we spend indoors at our desks, the less likely we are to receive adequate quantities of this crucial vitamin, which promotes healthy bones, protects against colds, improves mood and is thought to play a role in preventing heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The B vitamins are also known to help combat a range of stress-related disorders including low mood, depression, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia, while boosting energy and increasing levels of serotonin.
Step 1: Take a Vitamin D supplement; between 30 – 40 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) may be required for optimal health and between 800 to 2,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D3 daily, taken with a meal that contains fat, for better absorption.
Step 2: Take a daily high-quality, non-synthetic Vitamin B complex supplement. A well-balanced B-complex supplement can also help the metabolic processes which could be negatively affected by stress. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products. So if your diet largely consists of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, beans, and soy, that is to say if you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re at risk for deficiency.
12. CREATE A SERENE WORKSPACE
The benefits of aromatherapy include the reduction of anxiety, easing of depression, boosting of energy levels and cognitive performance. In a stale office environment, the effects of aromatherapy can be instantly up lifting. Just a few drops of your chosen oil placed in a diffuser at your desk, is all it takes…
Step 1: Choose your oil blend. There are over 400 aromatherapy oils to choose from:
For stress relief: lavender, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver, and ylang ylang and lemon oil.
For energy: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, angelica, jasmine, tea tree, rosemary and sage.
For combating depression: peppermint, chamomile, lavender and jasmine
Step 2: Purchase an ultrasonic aroma diffuser – inexpensive models, available for around £12, do the job just as well as more expensive ones.
Step 3: Fill with water, add 3-5 drops of good quality essential oil and plug in for a steady stream of uplifting, perfumed mist.
13. CULTIVATE GRATITUDE
Studies have found that spending just 5 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed can aid better and longer sleep. Negative emotions get easily built into our nervous system. If unchecked, they settle into a familiar and unhelpful pattern, affecting our relationship with our work and with our colleagues.
Step 1: Write down three things you are grateful for – however small they may seem eg. grateful for a good meeting, grateful for a delicious lunch, grateful for that parking space when you needed it, grateful for a sunny day…
Step 2: Think about one of them, for 20 seconds. How does that make you feel? Really feel that sense of gratitude. As thoughts convert to feelings, feelings in turn affect our behaviour.
14. GIVE MEDITATION THE TIME OF DAY
Tests carried out in India suggest that long-term meditators require significantly less sleep – 5.2 versus 7.8 hours per day (!). Of the many traditions of meditation – variously focusing on a word, an image, breath, or nothing at all – Transcendental Meditation is one of the most widely-practised. It focuses on the mental repetition of a word or phrase, known as a mantra (which is assigned to each student after an initial period of tuition). The technique itself is simple and easy to put into practice, requiring two 15-20 minute sessions per day. Regular practice of meditation has so many benefits, some of which include fatigue, sleep deprivation, visualisation, anxiety…
Step 1: Sit comfortably in a chair, eyes closed and breathe.
Step 2: Mentally repeat your mantra, easily and effortlessly – whilst breathing in for for example, inhaling on so, exhaling on hum.
Step 3: Thoughts will intrude. Simply notice them, without engaging in any inner dialogue. Keep repeating the mantra. The aim is to achieve a state of “restful alertness”.
Step 4: If you haven´t already, start easy and jump into guided mediation, via the app Headspace to get you started!
15. TREAT YOURSELF TO A MASSAGE
What if we told you a 60 minute massage is about the same as 7-8 hours sleep on your body? Massage has so many forms and applications and can be beneficial both on a physical and mental level. Long hours spent sitting in one position cause stiffness, while the stresses of the workplace create mental pressures.
Step 1: Treat yourself – one lunchtime a week, or one evening after work, to having a massage. Or reward yourself with a massage after a work achievement.
Step 2: You can also try self-massage to relieve a stiff neck; I am constantly rubbing my neck and shoulders, as well as feet. Trust me, it really helps!
16. WISHFUL THINKING
When we are tense and anxious – before an important presentation or a difficult meeting, visualising the outcome you wish for can give you the necessary confidence to pursue it. Athletes call this success tactic “mental rehearsal”. This is why consistency is key. You don’t become Olympic champion by going to the gym once. It’s important to do consistent visualization practice to get the best results.”
Step 1: Relax, breathe, imagine yourself performing whatever the task might be, in a calm and confident manner.
Step 2: Visualise yourself performing the task perfectly. Hone in on your expression, your gestures, imagine the approbation of your audience, your colleagues and your boss.
Step 3: Try to feel, physically, the elation engendered by your success. Confidence and lightness of spirit is key to success.
Last but not least, don´t forget that our mind, body and spirit are all connected – but it´s up to each one of us to take charge of our health. Through small changes in habit, we can be responsible for nurturing ourselves to reduce stress and anxiety and improve our overall wellbeing. This will allow us to achieve optimal health and performance in both our personal, and professional life.