A woman relaxing on her sofa during her lunch break

Stress relief: 8 quick and easy ways to switch off during your breaks

Posted by for Mental Health

Struggling to keep on top of your stress levels while working from home? Try one of these quick and easy activities to help stop stress building up throughout the day. 

No matter what you do for work, chances are dealing with stress is as much a part of your working day as answering emails or attending meetings. As much as we’d all love to do a job that is completely stress-free, most work comes with some level of day-to-day stress – whether that’s in the form of deadlines, communication issues or pressure to perform well.

However, stress doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Feeling stressed isn’t exactly nice, but if you focus on relieving those feelings when they emerge and tackling stress on a regular, day-to-day basis, you’ll put yourself at reduced risk of experiencing more serious problems such as burnout further down the line.  

With this in mind, making stress relief part of your daily routine – especially while you’re working from home – is one of the most important things you can do to take care of your mental health and overall wellbeing. And that’s where this guide comes in.  

On top of taking regular breaks (both in terms of lunch breaks and actual annual leave) and talking to your manager about how you’re feeling, having a tool kit of stress-busting activities under your belt is a good idea. You don’t need to wait until you’re already really stressed out to try these kinds of activities either – making stress relief part of your daily routine is a great way to stay on top of it.

With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of quick and easy stress-relieving activities you can fit into your lunch break, perfect for when you feel yourself getting flustered but don’t have the time to fit in a full-on workout or guided meditation session. From simple breathing exercises to research-backed techniques, there’s plenty to try. 

1. Go outside

By this point in the pandemic, you’re probably sick of being told to go for a walk around the block – but there’s a reason why experts preach the benefits of spending time in the big outdoors.

According to a 2020 study from scientists at Cornell University, spending just 10 minutes in a “natural setting” can boost your happiness levels and lessen the effects of physical and mental stress. You don’t have to do this by going for a walk either, simply existing outside for 10 minutes is enough to reap the benefits, so you could do it while you eat your lunch if the sun is shining.

Even better, the study stressed that a “natural setting” doesn’t have to be some grand, rural spot like a country park or forest – a grassy park or garden will do. 

A woman walking outside during her lunch break
Stress relief: getting outside in any shape or form is good for you.

2. Have a laugh

Laughter really is the best medicine; doing a couple of minutes of laughter therapy is a great way to relieve tension if you’re feeling stressed out.

It may sound a little strange, but it’s true – numerous studies have shown that laughter is an effective way to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) alongside its obvious mood-boosting benefits.

And because our bodies can’t tell the difference between real and faked laughter, you don’t need to find something funny to watch or read, either, just start doing it! To learn more, you can check out our guide.

3. Move to a different spot

If you’re guilty of eating lunch at your desk, now is the time to put that habit to bed.

Working from home has made it more tempting than ever to spend your breaks at your desk, but stepping away from your ‘work’ environment and treating yourself to a change of scenery (even if it’s just your sofa) can help your mind and body to relax, which, in turn, will help you to feel less stressed out when you return to work. 

As consultant counselling psychologist Dr Ritika Suk Birah previously told Stylist: “Instead of eating at your desk, go and have lunch in another area, even if it’s just by a window. This allows your brain and body to have a different sensory experience. From a neuroscientific perspective, that’s going to make a change to how you process emotions and will hopefully have benefits such as relaxation.” 

4. Ask yourself ‘helpful’ questions

The way you talk to yourself can play a big role in how stressed out you feel, so making a conscious effort to change the way you’re framing your experiences can help you to feel less stressed in the moment.

With this in mind, working through a series of mental prompts is a great way to help yourself feel more in control – and it’ll only take a couple of minutes.

As Chris Shambrook, psychological consultant and human performance director at PlanetK2 previously told Stylist, asking yourself ‘helpful’ questions (like the ones supplied in this article) could help to reduce stress and boost your positivity and confidence. 

A woman painting
Stress relief: a creative hobby like painting or colouring can give your mind something to focus on.

5. Try a hobby

Instead of wasting your lunch break worrying about an upcoming deadline or that afternoon’s meetings, focusing your mind on an activity outside of the realm of ‘work’ is a great way to distract yourself and do something you enjoy.

From painting and embroidery to taking care of your plants and cooking, there’s plenty to get stuck into.

6. Practice ‘awe’

Your mind is a pretty powerful thing, so much so that you can use it to relieve stress, simply by taking a moment to focus on the world around you. 

According to a recent study, practicing ‘awe’ – that is, turning your “full and undivided attention” on something you appreciate, value or simply find amazing – can reduce feelings such as stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression.  

In fact, in the study, participants who did this for 10-15 seconds three to five times a day for 21 days reported “statistically significant” improvements across the board.

7. Breathe

You read that right – breathing really does have the power to reduce your stress levels. 

It’s why doing five minutes of controlled breathing is such an integral part of Stylist’s Work 5 A Day, our initiative to help you look after your mental health while you’re working from home. 

You don’t have to do anything complicated to practice controlled breathing, either. As Kate Gaskell, an intuitive breathwork coach, previously told Stylist: “A simple exercise like inhaling and exhaling for a count of four each, even for just a few minutes, can help to loosen the grip of anxiety or stress.”     

A woman stretching while working from home
Stress relief: stretching is an easy way to relieve tension.

8. Stretch it out

If you’re short on time but still want to reap the stress-relieving benefits of exercise, opting for a few stretches is an easy and quick way to get moving.

Not only is stretching relaxing, but it also helps to relieve tension in your muscles and joints (one of the ways stress manifests in the body) and in turn, relieve some of the tension you’re holding in your mind, too. And because stretching doesn’t require too much high-intensity movement, you probably won’t need to change into workout gear, either.  

There are a number of ways to get started. These simple stretches require little-to-no concentration (so you can do them in front of the TV, if you so desire) or you could try something like a short yoga routine or mobility workout if you have slightly more time. 

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.