21 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Workday

(Adapted from Saki Santorelli’s article: 21 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Workday)

  1. Take 5-30 minutes in the morning to be quiet and meditate – sit or lie down and be with yourself … gaze out the window, listen to the sounds of nature or take a slow quiet walk. Alternately, practice some mindful yoga or formal walking practice.
  2. Choose a morning activity to bring mindful attention to. Stay with this activity for a month or longer: Making your morning beverage; feeding the dog; eating breakfast; brushing your teeth. Bring all your attention to this activity as you’re doing it. Keep it simple. 
  3. While driving, become aware of body tension, e.g. hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, shoulders raised, stomach tight, etc., consciously releasing, dissolving that tension … Does being tense help you to drive better? What does it feel like to soften the muscles and drive? What about smiling? What are you cultivating in these moments? 
  4. In the car, decide not to play the radio or listen to anything and simply be with yourself.
  5. Pay attention to your breathing and to the sky, trees, or quality of your mind when stopped at a red light or toll plaza.
  6. When you arrive at work, take a moment to orient yourself. Use the walk across the parking lot to step into your life: To know where you are and where you are going.
  7. With intention and warmth, greet the people in your school, taking a moment to make a connection: Offering a genuine smile, meeting their eyes, noticing perhaps, a particular vibrant color in their clothing. This doesn’t have to add time… just presence and attention.
  8. As you enter your classroom or office, notice stepping over the threshold, entering a new space. Acknowledge the newness, the freshness of the day. No matter what you might be anticipating—there’s really no knowing what’s going to unfold. 
  9. While sitting at your desk or keyboard, bring awareness to bodily sensations, consciously acknowledging any tension—and inviting these areas to release, especially softening the belly, the jaw, the eyes… noticing any particular patterns for you, and bringing a sense of kindness and gentleness to those areas of the body. 
  10. Use transitions (class changes, settling down after recess, moving from one subject to another), to actively bring yourself to the present moment. Use mountain pose—sitting or standing—to physicalize the transition. Or, get the whole class involved in a standing breath stretch or “shake-out.” If you need a break—they probably do, too! This consciously invites fresh energy into the next event—preparing everyone for better attention and learning.
  11. Use your breaks to truly relax rather than simply as an opportunity get more done in the brief break. Change your routine: Get outside if you usually stay in. Meet with colleagues—even briefly—instead of rushing to grade papers. Read a poem. Check in with a favorite inspirational blog. Give yourself some space to truly refresh yourself. Exhale.
  12. At lunch, changing your environment can be helpful.
  13. Try closing your door (if you have one) and take some time to consciously relax: Close your eyes, or take a short stretch break. 
  14. Practice “STOP” several times during the day. Become aware of your breathing and bodily sensations, allowing the mind to settle in as a time to regroup and recoup. Teach it to your students so you can all do it together. (S: Stop; T: Take a breath: O: Observe what’s here, open to all that’s present; P: Proceed in the way you’d like—which may be to pause again). 
  15. Use the everyday cues in your environment as reminders to center yourself, e.g. the bell ringing or morning announcements. The sounds of classes changing in a busy school can be a moment of resting with sound itself—not needing to change anything.
  16. Take some time at lunch or other moments in the day to speak with colleagues. Try choosing topics that are not necessarily work related. Asking about someone’s life or a shared interest invites spontaneity and can engender warmth and connection. 
  17. Choose to eat one or two lunches per week in silence. Eat slowly and be with yourself.
  18. At the end of the workday, reflect briefly on the day and see what moments arise. Acknowledge and congratulate yourself for whatever you accomplished—no matter how small. In fact, make note of the small things; let them count. 
  19. Pay attention as you leave the building and walk to your car: Notice the transition from inside to outside, the air, the temperature, sounds, the light, whatever season you’re in. What might it be like if you opened and accepted these environmental conditions and bodily sensations rather than resisting them? 
  20. As you drive home or take public transportation, let this be a time of being rather than planning or reviewing. Pay attention to the body, sounds, breath. Let this time of transition be a wakeful space of presence before heading into the next round of demands at home.
  21. Try changing out of work clothes when you get home. This simple act might help you to make a smoother transition into your next role—it doesn’t take long. Say hello to each of your family members or to the people you live with. Take a moment to look in their eyes. If possible, make take 5-10 minutes to be quiet and still, or do some mindful yoga to shift your body into the next activity. If you live alone, feel what it is like to enter the quietness of your home, the feeling of entering your own environment.