My friends and students seem to have the same complaint when conversation comes around to work -- putting in too many hours and becoming overwhelmed with the stress of the economy and pressures of their jobs.
This is a theme that seems to go beyond sector -- I know freelance writers who complain of their tight shoulders and back from sitting in front of a computer all day and I have students with the same complaints who often stay at work until 10 p.m. or midnight only to have to come to work at 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
Lately I have noticed that my friends and students are carrying higher and higher levels of stress because of the aforementioned problems. I think there is a great need for folks to find periods of relaxation at work to increase overall well-being and productivity, and to restore their health. The key elements to reducing stress that can be used almost anywhere at any time are: stretching and breathing.
Why I recommend stretching
Aside from increasing blood flow to the muscles to prevent that intense stiff feeling that one can experience after hours of intense seated work, the physiological benefits are profound.
Doing simple stretches will affect your overall biological rhythms. In many studies, researchers found that a small amount of relaxation can decrease stress hormone levels, increase restorative sleep, reduce blood pressure, decrease fluid retention, and allow the body to process and let go of toxins and excess fat.
Stretching also sends your brain the message that you are in relaxation mode, allowing for higher levels of concentration and thinking -- the relaxed brain is better able to problem-solve and be proactive rather than reacting to stressful situations.
Breathing, the key to chilling out
Breathing is essential to relaxation. Whether you are stretching or just taking a moment to think, engaging your breath is the key to balancing body, mind and spirit. Inhalation brings oxygen to the lungs, which is then distributed throughout the body to feed the brain, to massage the vital organs and to help move toxins out of the cells. Exhalation allows toxins and cell wastes to exit the body. The process of breathing in and out also stimulates and massages the abdominal organs, which in turn stimulates healthy digestion.
Where to begin
Start your relaxation regimen by focusing on simple stretches that target your problem areas. For example, if you feel the most stress in your neck, then focus on releasing that tension. The goal is to take time to recognize and respond to stress. A small stretching break will go a long way to decreasing injury and increasing your ability to mentally function during high stress situations.
Stretch before work
Most people think I am crazy when I tell them to stretch prior to sitting down for a long period of work. However, stretching before work for five to 15 minutes, either at home or at the water cooler, will warm your muscles so they won't be as stiff when you're done with work.
Also, taking a small amount of time to breathe and stretch can help you to visualize and start your day in a positive way. When you come into a stressful situation in a state of relaxed awareness, you will tend to be able to think better through a situation rather than just reacting to it.
Stretch during work
If you are a person who has to sit at the computer for extended periods of time, you know how backbreaking it can be to sit still. It is important to find ways to stretch and move to decrease the pain, stiffness, fatigue, etc., caused by sitting.
Take time to stretch during work to maintain a high level of focus and to bring blood flow to tense areas. I suggest setting a timer to go off every 30-60 minutes, so that you can breathe, stretch and evaluate how your day is going. Sometimes a simple five-minute stretch break can help keep you in the zone during even the most stressful of times.
Stretch after work
Many people forget to stretch after work unless they are feeling lots of pain and stiffness. No matter how wonderful you feel when the work day ends, your brain may still be stuck at work.
Also, your body may not seem as stiff because you are moving and finally free from the work day hassles. However, mental and physical tension can linger and needs to be addressed to allow your body to relax into a restorative night's rest. The body scan exercise that is described below is a great stretch to do at the end of the evening.
What to stretch
If you have the time, gently stretching the whole body is a great approach to restore your health. However, stretching the whole body is not always an option when time is short. Therefore, it may only be possible to target the trouble spots. For example, if your neck and shoulders are always stiff, then do stretches that will increase the blood flow to those areas. Many simple stretches can be done at home, on the bus or at your desk to relieve tension. Some examples are included below.
Body scan: Find a comfortable seated position and relax your breath and body. If you notice any tension, then tighten and release the muscles in that area as you breathe deeply and slowly. For an all-over calming effect, you can start at your toes, tightening and releasing all muscles in your body all the way up to your skull. This relaxation technique is great for beginning and ending a stressful day.
Neck tilts: Breathe in and as you breathe out, tilt your head slowly to the right so that your ear is floating above the top of your shoulder. Don't force the movements -- just breathe and enjoy a gentle stretch. Repeat on the left side.
Neck rolls: Breathe in and as you breathe out, tilt your head slowly to the right so that your ear is floating above the top of your shoulder. Gently allow your head to guide your neck down and forward in a semicircle to the left side until your ear is floating over your left shoulder. Then, breathe in and gently allow your head to move down and forward back toward the right shoulder. Again, don't force the movements -- just breathe and enjoy a gentle stretch. Repeat on the left side.
Shoulder lifts: Breathe in and as you breathe out slowly lift your shoulders up toward your ears. Don't force the movements -- everyone has varying degrees of flexibility -- just lift and gently hold the stretch. Breathe out as you slowly release your shoulders back to resting position. Breathe in and as you breathe out slowly lower your shoulders down toward the floor -- just lower and gently hold the stretch. On the next exhalation, slowly bring your shoulders back to resting position.
Breathe in and breathe out as you move and gently shake and move your arms any way that feels good to you. Now do the same for your legs -- just be careful that you don't shake yourself out of your chair. This stretch is fun and may be just the crazy stretch that gets coworkers laughing.
So, if you're feeling stressed, take time out to try some of these stretches. This İstanbul chill out will help increase your mental, physical and spiritual well-being.