I left my wallet and keys in my desk at work—again! It was the second time in two weeks that I’d gotten all the way to the subway station on my evening commute home only to have to turn around and retrieve the important objects I left behind in my rush. Work has been pretty busy and since it feels like there are 1,001 things, both big and little, to get done, I catch myself continually trying to squeeze just one more thing into the already stretched-thin final minutes at work. In my carelessness, the five or so minutes saved by sending that last email turned into twenty minutes wasted.
There isn’t much relief after work either. Sure, I’d like to spend time lounging around my apartment with a book but even in the comfort of my own home, there’s still a heaping pile of tasks waiting to tackled—mounds of laundry to be folded, a package I meant to send my great aunt weeks ago, and a stack of unopened mail are just a few of them. No need to say that my Snuggie has been lonely lately.
Sinking into bed at the end of another busy day, I couldn’t shake my mom’s familiar words from my head: “There will always be work to be done.” The supermoms out there know that anyone can drive themselves crazy attempting to fit that one last thing into a mere 24 hours, and that making time to relax can sometimes be a chore itself—but a very necessary one in our workaholic culture.
I decided that I had to do something about the stress caused by these tasks setting up camp in my head all day and night. What I’ve since learned is that everyone—even busy people—can fit a few moments into their day to remove themselves from the stronghold of the stress that is just part of life. In fact, breaks could be good for your tasks, too. Research shows that breaks, when taken at the right time, can actually raise productivity: “Short breaks between tasks can be particularly effective, helping you feel like you’ve wrapped up one thing before moving on to the next,” says an American Psychological Association article. “Take a 10–15 minute break every few hours to recharge and avoid the temptation to work through lunch.” Of course there are many ways you could spend that short break! Here are a few healthy, effective ways to make the most of those 10–15 minutes (and no, that does NOT include running another errand!):
Start your day with a quick morning walk or jog
Nothing compares to the silence and tranquility of the morning before the rest of the word has gotten up (if you’re a morning person, that is). The newly-risen sun, the morning dew, birds chirping—these are all things that can stimulate the senses in a calm way and have a refreshing element that prepares you to face the day head-on.
A real lunchtime break (minus the crumbs on the keyboard)
If you’re in an office environment, take advantage of the freedom to leave your office on your lunch break. That doesn’t necessarily mean dropping dough on a lunchtime meal; just stretching your legs with a quick walk up and down the street is all it takes. Look up local parks and gardens or try exploring a bit; there may be a place nearby to bring your brown bag and enjoy it al fresco.
Turn some pages
Immersing yourself in some engaging fiction for a few minutes can do wonders at distracting your brain from daily stress. Crack open that dusty book and read a few sentences. You’ll be sucked into the plot details quicker than you think.
If you can’t get away from the stressful environment for a few minutes, switch tasks
A study published in Psychology Today asserts that switching test categories could improve test scores: “Previous studies have shown that people are more accurate in their responses to questions at the beginning of a test than they are at the end of a test,” said researchers. They found that simply changing the subject matter on longer tests resulted in better performance by students. The same strategy could apply to the monotonous yet challenging tasks of the day.
Feel the burn
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Why is that, you may ask? One could argue that it’s hard to worry about things when you can barely breathe. While that may have something to do with it, exercising releases endorphins which make you feel relaxed.
However, the reality is that even after all of these activities, the source of stress is still right there waiting to be dove into, rearing its ugly, ominous head. I couldn’t quite manage to get my worries to disappear completely, but I was much more prepared to tackle these issues than I was before my break. Life is far too short to let worrying about these minor tasks take up too much time. After all, there will always be something to do, but there won’t ever be time to relax unless you create it!
By Stefanie Muldrow