Small Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety When You Can’t Leave Your Desk

Small Ways to Relieve Stress and Anxiety When You Can’t Leave Your Desk
Photo: Maskot. Design: Allison Kahler/STYLECASTER.

Regardless of how much you’re paid, how many hours you work and how often you fall behind deadlines, there are very few of us who don’t experience work-related stress. Whether it’s in the form of an argument with a co-worker, tears that seem to well up out of nowhere or a full-on panic attack, we’ve all been there in some way, shape or form and know the agonizing pain that can come along with it.

And while talking to a therapist, going for a walk or simply calling it a day early are often the recommended remedies (especially when the situation feels dire), there are moments when none of the above is possible. So if you find yourself in this predicament, here are some small, but effective pro tips for getting your mind, body and spirit back on track until you’re able to clock out.

MORE: How Therapy Helped Me Deal with My Debilitating Anxiety

Bend It Forward

For many of us, heading to the gym or yoga studio is the best way to unwind after a busy day. But it’s not uncommon to instead be bogged down by work, get stuck at the office and eventually head home when you should already be preparing for bed. On days like this, Donna Rubin, cofounder of bodē nyc, New York City’s first hot yoga studio recommends bending forward… literally.

According to her, forward bends help to lower your heart rate if you are having anxiety, and deep breathing helps to calm the central nervous system. So get moving at your desk for a minute or two when you need immediate relief. “Bend forward with your belly on your thighs and let your head hang down toward the floor. Allow your lower back to soften by sending your breath there,” she says. “Try and take breaths and feel the blood flowing into your head.”

For beginners who don’t know any specific breathing exercises, such as the ujai practice taught in hot yoga, just breathe as normally as possible in and out through your nose.

Count Your Breath

If focused breathing makes a huge difference for you, meditation could make a huge difference in how you take on the rest of your day. While there are always popular apps like Headspace that you can download to your phone, Eddie Cohen, founder of Walden, recommends finding a private conference room or other area of the office, closing your eyes and just focusing on your breath going in and out.

“If you can’t get away from your desk, just close your eyes, and count your breaths to 10 and then back. Do this three times,” he says. “It’s a simple meditation exercise that will help you feel calm and centered.”

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Write It Out

Beyond simple breathing exercises, Cohen also says journal writing can prove effective, as it gives you the opportunity to make sense of the scrambled thoughts in your head and approach them without feeling overwhelmed.

“Try writing down exactly what’s bothering you and make a plan to tackle it. Our stress and anxiety comes from somewhere. Journaling can help identify the sources of stress and tension in your life,” he says.

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Get in Touch with Your Senses

When anxiety snowballs into a panic attack that affects how you see, smell, hear and touch your surroundings, Alain Palinsky, owner of Kollectiv, recommends pairing any of the above breathing exercises with a body check-in.

“Close your eyes and take three deep slow breaths,” he says. “Start sensory exercises. Feel your shirt touching your skin. The socks on your feet.” And add in a few stretches if you have room, too.

The simpler you keep it, the faster you’ll experience relief.

Plug into a Playlist

If you’re anything like us, you keep a pair of headphones at your desk because you need a soundtrack to carry you through the day. And while some of us take the time to carefully curate a playlist that extends past overtime, sometimes we drive ourselves nuts looking for tunes that won’t make us want to tune out from whatever tasks are at hand.

For that reason, we have meditation tools like INSCAPE. This week, the multi-platform wellness brand updated its app to include Spotify-like playlists that eliminate the decision fatigue associated with searching for new music to listen to.

“We’re using behavioral science and machine learning to help serve you the right experience at the right time of day based on why, how, and when you use the app,” says founder Khajak Keledjian. “Think about it this way—on Google, the ultimate search would give you one result. Based on your browsing history, it would recommend the perfect restaurant that you wanted to go to at that time. That’s our goal too, and that’s what we do.”

Some of the playlists you can try include:

Anxiety Prime: Get back to some balance and calm.

Over-Thinkers Anonymous: Start here. It’s a no-brainer.

Friday Favorites: Kick back and let the week go. The weekend starts now.

MORE: 3 Easy Meditation Techniques for Your Self-Care Routine

Pamper Yourself

And when all else fails, treat yo’self! As self-professed beauty junkies, we know the power of an express mani-sesh or 10-minute face mask when stress wreaks havoc on our day. Keep a seasonal shade (along with polish remover) at your desk and paint your digits during your lunch break.

And if you’re makeup-free, indulge in a mess-free mask that goes on clear so you don’t have to feel weird about drawing attention to yourself in something that shimmers or has to get peeled off.