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Mental Health & Self-Care Print

6 Ways to De-Stress Fast at Work

Have you ever just wanted to scream or felt like crying at work? Most of us have felt upset at a time that feels like the worst possible time – whether something happened with work, like a run-in with a difficult co-worker, or something happened in our personal lives, like getting some terrible news in a text or phone call.

If you’re not in a position to take the rest of the day off, it’s important to give yourself a short break – a little timeout. Just a few minutes of taking a step back can help you calm down enormously, help clear your mind and reduce mind chatter.

Cons of Ignoring Stress Pros of Taking a Quick Break
Hard to think straight and focus Can calm down
More likely to make mistakes Can think more clearly
Easy to get into an argument Make wiser choices
Easy to make rash decisions  
Waste time  

Now you may think, “Are you kidding me? I don’t have time to take any kind of a break.” Certainly, one common choice is to act like nothing happened and just keep pushing through your day. However, when we’re stressed out, it’s really hard to think straight and focus, so work can take longer. It’s also when we’re more likely to make mistakes or get into an argument, which then just makes the whole situation worse and we have to spend more of our time cleaning up the mess we made. Taking a short break now can save you a whole lot of time in the long run.

6 Ways to De-Stress Fast at Work

Here are some easy things you can do on a quick break so you can breathe again and calm down (keep in mind that while one trick can be helpful, combining a few of these may be even more effective).

  1. The Two-Minute Timeout. Excuse yourself and go to the bathroom or a quiet room. Set your phone timer to two minutes. Breathe regularly and then count each time you breathe out. Remember that number so you won’t even need a timer in the future, because this number is about how many breaths you take in two minutes. This two-minute timeout helps you get out of your head and into a mindful, calm state. It works wonders and it works fast. The great thing about this is that you can just say you need a minute to go to the bathroom and no one will be the wiser about what you’re up to. This can be a lifesaver in the middle of an argument or a heated meeting.

  2. Five-Minute Guided Meditation on Your Phone. Meditation is amazing for decompressing. Many people don’t do it, because they think they need to sit in silence for an hour. That’s nice if you have the time; and yet a five-minute guided meditation can make a big difference. With a guided meditation, it’s easier to calm down and meditate, because you can focus on the voice of the person speaking and what they’re guiding you to do. The Stop, Breathe & Think app is a highly effective meditation app that has many meditations that are only about five minutes long. It recommends a few meditations based on how you’re feeling so you won’t get overwhelmed figuring out which meditation to choose.

  3. Talk to Someone You Trust. It can be easy to spin out mentally when we get triggered. We might make some really poor decisions in the heat of the moment, like quit a job or a relationship only to regret it later. Consider talking to a trusted friend who’s not upset. It’s easier for them to see the forest for the trees so to speak. They can probably help you put things in perspective, which can help you calm down, start breathing again and thinking clearly so you can make wiser choices. 

  4. Move Your Body. While you may not have time to go for a run or a yoga class, doing a few jumping jacks, walking up and down some stairs or doing push-ups against a wall in the stairwell can help you burn off steam.

  5. Laugh. The last thing you might feel like doing now is laughing; and yet humor has been found to instantly decrease stress and increase happiness. Bookmark a blog, website or Instagram feed you think is funny (e.g., The Bloggess is great for a fast laugh; and if you’re feeling crazy, her stories will probably make you feel pretty sane). Make a playlist on YouTube with funny cat or blooper videos. It might feel like you’re wasting time; and yet the calming effect will show that this is time well spent.

  6. Five Senses Check In. You can do this one anywhere, with anyone, in seconds. This is great for reducing anxiety and mind spinout really fast. Count five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Make it a game. If you forget the numbers, just go through your five senses and count stuff you sense. This will get your mind off what you’re ruminating on and give you a mental break, which more than likely will help you relax.

If you're still feeling overwhelmed, it could be very helpful to speak to a crisis counselor. We have information on several crisis hotlines you can contact here 24/7.

Your Cheat Sheet

When we’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to forget all the things that help us feel better so we created the graphic below you can print and use as a bookmark to remind you of these tips for those special moments when life just gets hard. Click here to see just the image to print it.

Six ways to de stress fast infographic

About the Author

Sonja Shin specializes in writing about health and science in easy-to-understand language. She has reported medical, technology and general news at TV stations in San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis and produced network news in New York. She struggled with life-threatening depression and anxiety for decades and is passionate about sharing tools to help people feel happier. She also loves stickers and cat videos.