When you’re working full-time in an office full of people, stress is part of the package. Most offices are busy places where no-one has time to waste and the pressure is always on to perform. Up to a point, stress can be a good thing. It injects a sense of purpose and urgency into your working day which can boost productivity and get stuff done. Many people thrive on working in adrenaline fuelled environments such as call centers or customer service departments. However, when things get on top of you and you feel like you’re losing control, it’s high time to take action.
Stress affects us in different ways – physically, mentally and emotionally. A short fuse, emotional instability, an inability to concentrate, lack of empathy, making silly mistakes – these are all classic symptoms of stress threatening to overwhelm body and mind. In the body, common areas to experience stress and tension are the head, neck and shoulders, as well as the upper and lower back. Tension in the body can be exacerbated by sitting still for long periods of time, leading to discomfort and pain.
When you feel stressed at the office, stop what you’re doing and take five minutes to re-balance. Whatever posture your body is holding throughout the day, and wherever pain and tension is held, counteract it with some gentle, sustained stretches. You’ll feel much better for it. Here are 5 strategies to stretch and de-stress at the office
If you’re working with a computer screen all day long, you will be experiencing a stiff neck most days. For instant relief, sit up straight with your knees at 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor. With your neck and spine in a neutral position and your shoulder and torso relaxed, tilt your head to one side and bring your ear towards your shoulder. Apply a little extra pressure with your hand until you feel a stretch on the opposite side of the neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then do the other side.
Next, starting from a neutral and relaxed position, rotate your head to the right as far as it will go, while looking over your shoulder and hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
For tight shoulders from hunching over the keyboard for long periods, it’s good to loosen up while getting yourself in a more relaxed mind set. Take up a neutral seating position and take a deep breath. Shrug both shoulders up to your ears and hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat a few times until you feel the tension ebbing away.
Keeping your shoulders relaxed, cross you right arm over your chest. Cradling your elbow or upper arm in your left hand, apply a little pressure until you feel the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat on the left side.
Hold out your hand and spread your fingers. Using the thumb and index fingers of the other hand, stretch out each of the 4 gaps between the fingers. Repeat on the other hand.
To relieve wrist ache and tension resulting from overuse of the mouse, start by clenching both fists in front of you. Release the clench and make small circular movements with your wrists. Rotate first one way, then the other.
Sitting relaxed and upright in your office chair, cross your arms in front of you and grab the chair arms (or as near as you can get). Keeping your spine in alignment, lean back while you’re grabbing on until you can feel a slight stretch across your upper back.
For a lower back stretch, sit in a neutral position in an office chair, straighten and lift your spine, then bend all the way forward from the hips as far as you can and reach towards the floor. Try to touch the floor or rest your hands on your shins or ankles. Breathe out and stay there for up to 30 seconds.
This is not so much a stretch as a healthier seating habit that helps to protect your lower back. While there may be nothing wrong with your body posture, it could be the office chair that is causing you stiffness and back pain. Try replacing your chair with an exercise ball, also known as a Swiss ball, and work your lower back while engaging your core muscles while you work. Alternatively, switch to and ergonomically shaped kneeling chair.
Conventional chairs provide active support, letting your body relax into a passive position. Active sitting means your body will support itself naturally and improve your posture too.
Mike James, an independent writer and graphic designer – working in an office long enough to appreciate the value of stretching and de-stressing. For parts of the information in this and other posts, staff management specialists Planday were consulted.