5 Ways to Beat Stress at Your Desk

The time we spend at work has a profound impact on our overall well being. Stress at work can make us less productive, kills our creativity, and puts us in a bad mood when we go home. Being more mindful at work can reverse all of these effects of stress.

So how do we do it? Here are a few quick ways to beat stress through mindfulness at work:

Add intention to a common task

The easiest way to be more mindful is to boost your attention to the common tasks you do everyday. Walking across the office, pouring a cup of coffee, filling your water bottle, making copies, or cleaning up a coffee spill can all be done with added attention. Instead of thinking about all of the other tasks ahead of you, focus on what you’re doing right now, in the moment.

In fact, researchers found that “single-tasking,” the opposite of multitasking, is a better predictor of happiness than the task you are doing! In other words, mindful walking may increase your happiness more than checking Facebook while you watch Netflix and eat popcorn. Not that I have any experience with that.

Notice what is going on around you

Use this grounding exercise to help you when you’re bored, lose focus, or overwhelmed by your to-do list:

  1. Look around the room and notice five things that you can see that grab your attention. Name them in your mind.
  2. Name four things you can feel in your body. Could be the temperature, your clothes, or your seat in the chair.
  3. Name three things you can hear.
  4. Name two things you can smell
  5. Name one thing you did that day that makes you proud

There’s science behind this step, too. A lot of the stress we feel comes from an irrational sense of fear or impending doom. Grounding exercises cool down the mind by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. After the exercise is complete, the triggers of stress will still be there, but you may find yourself feeling less agitated by them.

Create a smile file

I have a previous supervisor and coworkers to thank for this one. They taught me that one aspect of mindfulness is reflecting on the entirety of our experiences with gentleness for ourselves and our reactions. Unfortunately, we tend to remember our mistakes and criticisms more than our successes. As you encounter the good stuff, jot down what happened or send yourself an email to file away. Make a point to review this “smile file” on a regular basis to notice the totality of what you do and remind you of the contributions you make at work.

Notice feelings without judgment

Mindfulness teaches us that observing our thoughts helps us to control the impact they have on our emotions. Take a moment to observe what you’re feeling, name it in your mind, and observe it without judgment.

That last part may feel foreign, but it’s the part that matters. The number one way to prevent stress is to allow yourself to feel what you feel and know that it will pass and you will be OK. If you can practice this when things are going well, it will be easier to call on when they aren’t. Noticing our feelings helps us to keep from being overcome by them.


You knew this one was going to show up in the list. This one can be tricky depending on your work environment, but it is also the thing that can lower your stress response and help you reset, as we so often need at work. Here’s how to do it:

Set a timer on your phone or computer for your desired time. Sit upright with your feet flat on the ground. Close your eyes or pick a spot in the room that isn’t moving to focus on. Take deep breaths in, filling your lower abdomen with air, hold for one second, and let it out slowly. Try to lengthen your exhalations so they are a bit longer than your inhalations. Focus on your breath, and count how long each breath lasts if you wish. Your mind will wander, and when it does, simply refocus on your breath.

How do you feel? Notice and give it a name, free of judgment. Yes, the steps can overlap. Try this out for 2-5 minutes every day. Consistency is more important than duration, so pick an amount of time that works for you. After two weeks (or sooner) you're likely to notice increased stress tolerance in every aspect of your life. 

I’ve included a handy infographic on these steps. Try them out for two weeks and you may find yourself feeling more at peace, getting more done, and leaving work feeling more satisfied. I'd love to hear how it goes for you in the comments!

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