Welcome to Day 2 of HuffPost Healthy Living's 14-Day Stress-Less Challenge! In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, our goal is to use the next two weeks to focus on becoming less stressed and more calm. Today's expert is Joan Witkowski, breathing expert, who will be tackling ways to de-stress at your desk. Read through today's challenge, then tell us -- either in the comments, on Facebook or @HealthyLiving -- how it's going. Just joining us? Catch up on what you've missed here and sign up to receive newsletters for the rest of the challenge here.
Taking a deep breath is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to stress relief, and for good reason: Focusing on the breath is a simple and highly effective way to lower stress levels. Breathing expert Joan Witkowski argues that taking time to simply pause and breathe is one of the most fundamental ways to keep the body feeling balanced and energized when pressure starts building at work.
"We are not perpetual motion machines," says Witkowski. "Taking a pause where we don’t think, feel or even focus on breathing (we just are) makes a huge difference. Doing that on a regular basis between activities, we actually increase our energy and our focus. We increase the ability of our mind to stay steady by giving it a time out.”
To deal with job stress, Witkowski recommends a few simple breathing tricks you can perform at your desk. Scroll down for four exercises to try, and make a daily habit of repeating whichever one works best for you.
- Moment Of Pause: Taking a minute or two to sit quietly and focus on the breath can move you into a calmer state by helping you switch from functioning out of the sympathetic nervous system (which is characterized by drive, flight and ambition) to the parasympathetic nervous system (which puts us in a state of "relax and receive"), according to Witkowski. "It really maintains a very steady flow of energy, whereas the perpetual motion does not sustain our energy the same was as ‘motion, pause, motion, pause’ does," she says.
- Just Smile: This one is simple: All you have to do is close your eyes, exhale and smile. "Do that several times until you feel that the smile is going through your body," advises Witkowski. "It has a calming effect."
- "Change The Air": Get up and physically change locations when you're feeling overwhelmed with mounting emails or deadlines. Five minutes of walking around the office or outside can help you reset. "When tension is building and you feel that you can’t find a way to breathe in it, then you get up and change the forcefield," she says. "You change the air."
- Loosen The Jaw: This one is easy to do at your desk, and it can go far in relieving stress. Every once in a while, simply repeat to yourself: “Relax the jaw. Lips together, teeth apart.” And then do a silent "lalala" or count to 10 silently, which loosens the throat as well as the jaw.
Stress-Less Fact Of The Day: Plan a vacation, even if it's just a long weekend away from the office. A recent study found that the mere anticipation of an upcoming vacation can boost feelings of well-being for up to eight weeks.