Blowing Off Steam: Six Quick Stress-Release Tactics to Make You More Productive

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” – Lou Holtz, American football player and coach.

Stress gets a bad rap sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with a little stress if it spurs you to action, focuses your mind, or helps you handle a new job. Psychologists call this eustress: minor physical, mental, or even biochemical stressors that have a positive effect on your outlook or body.

But if the stress is cumulative or unremitting, it becomes strain, which derails your productivity. Even relatively minor stress compounded over a workweek can have negative effects, so find ways to blow off steam simply and quickly. Ideally, you’ve got a nice hobby to help you work off tension at home, or a membership to a health club where you can play a satisfying game of squash (or go to Orange Theory Fitness, my addiction). But you also need tension relievers for work, when you can’t go run a quick mile on the treadmill.

Try these ideas to give your productivity a quick boost at work:

  1. Get some coffee. Here’s where burning off stress joins with eustress to buoy you a bit. As a stimulant, coffee is a kind of eustress; however, many of us just enjoy the steam, the flavor, or the scent. While too many coffee breaks can slow you down or affect your sleep at night, sometimes the best thing you can do is step away from your desk for a quick break. Walking to the breakroom helps, and the ritual of prepping your coffee lets you stop exercising your mind for a few moments. Any short break can help you reset your stress meter. It may interrupt your workflow, but sometimes that’s what you need.

  2. Take a walk. Spend a few minutes walking briskly outside. This is especially invigorating during cool weather. It may not release the natural endorphins more vigorous exercise does, but it can jar you out of a rut, wake you up, and encourage your mind to wander. Plus, it gets you out of your chair, so you can stretch and get your blood circulating properly. Even a five-minute walk can have beneficial effects.

  3. Squeeze a stress ball. This may seem silly, but the silly things really work, and they’re easy to get. Pouring a few tons of stress into a rubber ball works better than putting it elsewhere. You don’t even have to pretend it’s someone’s neck (but you could if it makes you smile).

  4. Practice mindfulness. Focusing on the now while disregarding the past or future may seem a bit Zen, but the purpose isn’t to wreck your planning and ignore what’s coming up. It’s intended more to keep you noticing and following along every single minute of the day, without going into automatic or coasting. Having routines is an important way to manage time, but sometimes you need to be fully present. This might include taking a few minutes to meditate or just close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing for one minute. You can’t eliminate stress, but being mindful allows you to recognize and reduce it.

  5. Listen to music. Music therapy can make you feel better. Typically, quiet instrumental music or music you know well works best (so you don’t waste part of your attention trying to figure out the lyrics). If your company allows headphones, slip a CD of music or ambient sound into your player. The music may spur you on to greater productive heights if you really enjoy it. Just remember others might be watching if you use your air guitar.

  6. Talk with a friend. According to an old joke, workers accumulate “gripe time” in addition to PTO on their pay stubs. If only it were true! Be careful about airing your dirty laundry to a co-worker, because politics can come into play. Talking things over with a friend who doesn’t work at your company is a better idea. If nothing else, your friend can sit quietly and let you vent, and you can do the same. Even better, your friend might provide some ideas or solutions about your problems you may never even have considered before.

Avoid the Explosion

Old-fashioned steam boilers had release valves for those times when overpressure threatened to cause a catastrophic explosion. Engineer similar stress relievers for yourself. It’s much better to release tension gradually than to blow your top!


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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