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17 Simple habits to help you feel more energised at work

It is no secret that a healthy mind and body – mens sana in corpore sano, as the Roman poet, Juvenal, famously said – increases the length and quality of life, helps us along the road to success and brings heightened meaning and joy to our lives.

With over half our lives spent at work, the challenges to living a healthy happy life are many. The relentless pressure of deadlines and presentations, an overload of information and the modern day strive for perfection can quickly lead to debilitating levels of stress and anxiety which in turn of course affects our productivity. Meals are rushed and eaten on the go, or not at all, which affect our energy levels. It is a vicious circle. With our modern malaise of being so time poor, how can we even begin to find a healthy balance?

We have put together 17 habits which we encourage you to develop. All of these can easily be put into practice during your working day, to reduce stress and lift your mood. Our step-by-step guide makes each tip easy to follow. These small, beneficial tweaks will soon become engrained in your routine without causing disruption or placing constraints on your time.

1

Breathing at its best

We all know how to breathe, right? We are surely experts at it by now it. Well, no, actually. Most of the time our breathing is shallow, constricted by poor posture and, of course, automatic.

Giving focus and attention to the rhythm of our breathing calms the mind and body, and is a simple yet highly effective means of relieving stress. Once you have enjoyed breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you will have gained the key insight for making the best of other relaxation practices shared here, including yoga and meditation.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

There are numerous different breathing techniques. This is one, recommended by June Heber in her class at Canyon Ranch is simple but highly effective and can be practised at any time throughout the day.

Step 1: Place your tongue on your palate, just behind your teeth. Breathe in through your nose for the count of 4.

Step 2: Hold your breath for the count of 7.

Step 3: With a very slight constriction of the throat, exhale through your mouth, over the count of 8. Listen to the sound of your breath. Repeat 10 times. You should feel measurably calmer after only a few minutes. This simple breathing technique can immediately help reduce anxiety.

2

Breathing at its best

Giving focus and attention to the rhythm of our breathing calms the mind and body, and is a simple yet highly effective means of relieving stress. Once you have enjoyed breathing deeply from the diaphragm, you will have gained the key insight for making the best of other relaxation practices shared here, including yoga and meditation.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: Place your tongue on your palate, just behind your teeth. Breathe in through your nose for the count of 4.

Step 2: Hold your breath for the count of 7.

Step 3: With a very slight constriction of the throat, exhale through your mouth, over the count of 8. Listen to the sound of your breath. Repeat 10 times. You should feel measurably calmer after only a few minutes. This simple breathing technique can immediately help reduce anxiety.

3

Maximise on movement

In a lifetime, the average person will spend at least 90,000 hours working. For many adults that is one third to one half of their waking hours at work. For most office jobs this is likely to mean endless hours seated at a desk. But several hours in one position will eventually lead to back pain and numerous other health issues. Walking just five minutes every hour however, can not only help with your overall energy levels, but also burn an 1,000 additional calories a week.

According to researchers the University of Utah School Of Medicine, people who got up and moved around for even just two minutes every hour had a 33 percent lower risk of dying. Now there’s an incentive!

Here is a simple way to introduce 10-15 minutes of exercise into the working day without disrupting your normal routine. It may seem like a small start to getting fit, but as, Albert Matheny of Naked Nutrition points out, “the trick is to find something very quick and achievable and just get started.”

Step 1: Establish a habit: Pick a regular, natural pause in the day, such as going for a tea break or popping to the loo – and make that the time you do your short, mini-exercise – perhaps take a 5 minute walk around the office or outside.

Step 2: Systematic reminders to help engrain the habit. This could be simply a post-it note on your workstation, or perhaps a recurring reminder on your digital calendar asking ‘have you moved in the last hour?’ This only takes 2 minutes to set up and will keep you on track.

Step 3: Introduce the mighty ‘Grok Squat’: Get out of your chair, squat down until your bottom is nearly touching your ankles and hold that position with your back straight and feet flat. Wait for 30 seconds to a minute until you feel all those muscles you don’t use while sitting come to life. Learn to love your glutes! They don’t appreciate being sat on all day, but keeping them stretched helps avoid lower body pain from back to knees.

4

Capitalise on corporate yoga

Yoga, in all its numerous forms, can transform your life, from your physical well-being to your mental outlook. In the words of Dr. Natalie Nevins, osteopath, physician and yoga teacher: “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centres attention; and sharpens concentration.” With an estimated 175 million sick days taken per annum in the US, half of them due to stress, many large employers – including Nike, IBM and Apple – have addressed this pervasive and costly problem by offering on-site yoga classes as an employee benefit. If your company is similarly enlightened, exploit the opportunity to join a regular class. According to Beryl Bender Birch, author of “Power Yoga”, “Demand for yoga classes is employee driven. The management of corporations has been dragged kicking and screaming into the mind-body discipline.” Another benefit? Yoga will increase flexibility by 35% after just 8 weeks of practice.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: If after-work yoga does not appeal, consider devoting one or two lunchtimes per week to a 45-minute yoga session near your office. iamYiam has a list of handpicked practitioners. You do not need any elaborate equipment for this light form of exercise. A comfortable top and pair of leggings will do.

Step 2: If your workplace does not already offer yoga as an employee benefit, perhaps you could approach your boss or HR department about providing yoga classes at work. Direct them to iamYiam for many styles of yoga from Hatha, Ashtanga, Restorative or Yin – if they need any convincing on the benefits. Many of our practitioners also offer classes and sessions to enhance corporate wellbeing.

5

The power of posture

Have you noticed how people who stand tall, shoulders back, appear more confident and inspire confidence in others? Body language influences not only how others react to you, but shapes how you feel about yourself. Yet much of our time is spent head down, hunched over our desks, making ourselves look and feel small. Experiments by social psychologist Amy Cuddy have shown that just two minutes of “power poses” can alter our hormonal balance, raising our levels of testosterone (dominance) and lowering cortisol (stress). As she suggests, “Our bodies change our minds… and our minds change our behaviour…and our behaviour changes our outcomes.”

Step 1: Bring awareness to the way you are sitting. Sit up with your spine straight and shoulders back. This in term will open your lungs, allowing you to breathe deeply.

Step 2: Assume the occasional “power pose”: throw out your arms, stretch out your legs and make expansive gestures. Hold that “power pose” for two minutes.

Step 3: Smile! This is the simplest and quickest technique for triggering feelings of happiness. Don’t worry if you think you look ridiculous – we promise this is highly effective.

6

Head and shoulders above the rest

Your head is designed to sit on top of your spine – not to project forward, tortoise-like. But long hours spent hunched over a desk can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders, which can also be a source of headaches, clouding your thoughts and interfering with concentration. Did you know, with the neck down at 60º you increase the effective load carried by the neck to 60lb. That’s the equivalent of having a small child sat on the back of your head!

These very simple exercises will loosen muscles and ease any aches or pains and should be an essential part of daily routine for anyone spending more than a few hours at desk.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: For a simple neck exercise – gently tilt your head, so that your left ear approaches your left shoulder. You should feel a light stretch. Hold for a count of 10. Now repeat on your right side. Do not strain.

Step 2: For a simple shoulder stretch – raise shoulders towards your ears until slight tension is felt across tops of shoulders. Hold for a slow count of 10. Repeat 3 – 5 times.

Step 3: For a shoulder roll – sit with your back supported and slowly roll shoulders up and backwards in circular motion. Repeat 10 times.

7

Drink up

You probably remember from school that the average adult human is composed of approximately 60% water. But did you realise the brain is made up of about 75% water?

Water supports the function of every single cell in our bodies and is vital for circulating nutrients and flushing out toxins. No wonder then, that dehydration can cause constipation and headaches – neither of which are helpful at work. A hydrated system will help with concentration.

Step 1: Start your day hydrated: You will be amazed at how knocking back a glass of water first thing in the morning can wipe away the cobwebs and get the brain in gear. Put a glass of water by your bedside before you go to sleep so that you won’t forget.

Step 2: Keep your bottle close. If water is there, you’ll probably drink it. Invest in a BPA free water bottle that you can fill up at home and keep drinking when on the go.

Step 3: Find the taste of water boring? Instead of reaching for caffeine or sugar-laden fizzy drinks, try flavoring your water with slices of fresh cucumber, lemon or ginger. Herbal teas are another great way of hydrating and with an amazing range of delicious teas on the market, experiment a find which ones you like the most. What’s more, many have wonderful health-boosting properties: rooibos is a powerful antioxidant, for instance, while peppermint can ease bloating and aid digestion. Getting up from your desk every few hours to brew a pot of tea can be a welcome break from work, while drinking plenty of fluids can help keep any boredom-induced hunger at bay.

8

Love your lunchbox

Does this sound familiar? Lunch is a rota of ready-make sandwiches bought from a handful of high-street chains and then gulped down ‘al-desk-o?’ The ease and temptation of convenience foods is oh so easy to succumb to, as we tell ourselves it saves time and money. But does it? For the odd £4.00 price of a sandwich + + (never mind the ‘extras’), you can prepare a tasty, healthy, balanced meal that will boost your energy, with little extra effort.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: Treat yourself to a lunch box you like the look of. Do you remember the excitement of your first school lunch box? It might sound silly, but aesthetic pleasure in an object will make you more likely to use it. Then buy some sealable plastic tubs to fit inside.

Step 2: Embrace leftovers. Make big batches of food at the weekends and keep in the fridge for quick lunches throughout the week. Each morning, put a portion into a tub, and add to it your choice of herbs and toppings – get creative. Where possible include healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, soy), omega 3 (salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies), flavonoid-rich foods: (garlic, onions, purple grapes, berries), calcium-rich foods (yoghurt, cheese, leafy greens, almonds, seaweed) and fibre-rich foods (beans, vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts).

Step 3: Throw something from your fruit bowl into your lunch box. Potassium, which can lower blood pressure at work, is plentiful in bananas.

9

Ditch the sweet stuff

We don’t know where you have been this year, but 2016 made it official – Sugar IS the greatest villain in our diet. Stress and sugar cravings form a vicious circle as the initial high of the sugar rush is followed by a crash in energy. Sugar is sneaky! A recent UK study found that 10% of diet foods contain the same or more calories than the regular stuff, and that 40% had more sugar. Why? When companies remove fat, they have to use more sugar, salt, and additives to make the food taste better. Many low fat foods promoted as healthy-eating options contain more sugar than their “full fat” equivalents – in some cases more than five times as much, an analysis by The Telegraph shows. So don’t be conned.

Nor is glucose, agave nectar, fructose or even honey as innocent as labels may have us believe. Sugar remains sugar by any of its 58 names, and excess sugar in any form is damaging to the body, forming sticky deposits on the synapses of the brain – a contributing cause of dementia. The stealthy addition of sugar is found in the most unlikely places, from toothpaste to bread.

Step 1: Ditch the carbonated, sweetened drinks. You should drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. So, if you weigh 150lbs (68kg), drink 75oz of water (that’s 3.75 pints). If you find the taste boring, try flavouring it with fresh mint, ginger or cucumber.

Step 2: Choose fresh fruit over smoothies or freshly-squeezed juices. The fruit itself contains vital fibre which is metabolized differently from juices, and is more slowly absorbed and released in the form of energy.

Step 3: Remember most alcohol contains a significant amount of sugar, so be mindful when consuming…

10

Mindful Snacking

We tend to eat when we are bored, anxious, or the big one in the workplace….in search of procrastination. When we are in a negative state of mind, it is rarely kale we reach for. If you have to snack try to be mindful and try to snack on foods rich in vitamins and minerals, as these will boost your energy and focus. Studies suggest that consuming about 30g (a handful) of nuts per day may reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 30-50% and reduce the risk of death from heart disease by around 20%.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: Clear your desk drawers of tempting naughty snacks. What the eye doesn’t see, the hand doesn’t reach for!

Step 2: If you must snack, nibble instead on nutrient-rich seeds or mixed nuts. Just 1oz a day can diminish inflammation and provide fiber, protein and immune-boosting minerals. For a small box of seedless dried raisins, you have 1.2 g of protein, 6% of fiber, 4% iron and 9% potassium, as much as a small banana.

Step 3: If you are craving something sweet, opt for fresh fruit or dried apricots, cranberries, raisins or figs (dried apricots, by the way, are particularly good for the gums).

11

Consider supplements to combat stress

Studies have variously indicated that up to 70% of the UK population is deficient in Vitamin D, between November and February “the sunshine vitamin”, as there are few sources of it found in our diets. The longer we spend indoors at our desks, the less likely we are to receive adequate quantities of this crucial vitamin, which promotes healthy bones, protects against colds, improves mood and is thought to play a role in preventing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The B vitamins are also known to help combat a range of stress-related disorders including low mood, depression, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia, while boosting energy and increasing levels of serotonin.

Step 1: Take a Vitamin D supplement. Recent research suggests that 30 – 40 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) may be required for optimal health – especially if you are dark-skinned, or over 50. The Mayo Clinic recommends a dose of 800 to 2,000 IU (international units) of Vitamin D3 daily, taken with a meal that contains fat, for better absorption.

Step 2: Take a daily high-quality, non-synthetic Vitamin B complex supplement, such as Integrative Therapeutics Active B-Complex. A well-balanced B-complex supplement can also help the metabolic processes which could be negatively affected by stress. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, founder of the Whitaker Wellness Institute, B vitamins play an important role in mental function. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in animal products. So if your diet largely consists of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, beans, and soy, that is to say if you are vegetarian or vegan, you’re at risk for deficiency.

12

Sniff your way to serenity

The health benefits of nature’s perfumes have been known since time immemorial, while essential oils have been used since the invention of steam distillation in the 11th century. French Chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse was the first person to coin the term ‘aromatherapy’ in the 1920’s. He soaked his hand in Lavender after burning himself – as he didn’t have anything else to hand – and was surprised to find that his wound healed quickly.

The benefits of aromatherapy include the reduction of anxiety, easing of depression, boosting of energy levels and cognitive performance. In a stale office environment, the effects of aromatherapy can be instantly uplifting. Just a few drops of your chosen oil placed in a diffuser at your desk, is all it takes…

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: Choose your oil blend.
There are over 400 aromatherapy oils to choose from
Suggested essential oils:
For stress relief: lavender, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver, and ylang ylang and lemon oil.
For energy: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, angelica, jasmine, tea tree, rosemary and sage.
For combating depression: peppermint, chamomile, lavender and jasmine

Step 2: Purchase an ultrasonic aroma diffuser – inexpensive models, available for around £12, do the job just as well as more expensive ones. Some have timers, to control the intensity of the aroma.

Step 3: Fill with water, add 3-5 drops of good quality essential oil and plug in for a steady stream of uplifting, perfumed mist. The process of doing this is in itself relaxing.

13

Cultivate gratitude

Perhaps the workplace has something to learn from the sports field. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Studies have found that spending just 5 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed can aid better and longer sleep.

Negative emotions get easily built into our nervous system. If unchecked, they settle into a familiar and unhelpful pattern, affecting our relationship with our work and with our colleagues.

The brain has two modes: the reactive (controlled by the mammalian limbic system), and responsive (controlled by the more evolved cortex). Stress increases reactivity in the amygdala and decreases insight of the cortex. “To counter this”, says John Shukwit, therapist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, who specialises in stress management, “we must work on the frontal lobes of the brain.” Practice, as they say, makes permanent. With practice, this area of the brain will be activated to create more positive mood.

Step 1: Write down three things you are grateful for – however small they may seem eg. grateful for a good meeting, grateful for a delicious lunch, grateful for that parking space when you needed it, grateful for a sunny day…

Step 2: Think about one of them, for 20 seconds. How does that make you feel? Really feel that sense of gratitude. As thoughts convert to feelings, feelings in turn affect our behaviour.

Step 3: Repeat the exercise in Step 2, 3 times, recalling positive memories from the past, or positively anticipated future events.

14

Give meditation the time of day

Tests carried out in India suggest that long-term meditators require significantly less sleep – 5.2 versus 7.8 hours per day (Behavioural and Brain Functions Journal 2010).

Of the many traditions of meditation – variously focusing on a word, an image, breath, or nothing at all – Transcendental Meditation (TM), also known simply as Vedic meditation, is one of the most widely-practised. It focuses on the mental repetition of a word or phrase, known as a mantra, which is assigned to each student after an initial period of tuition. The technique itself is simple and easy to put into practice, requiring two 15-20 minute sessions per day. Regular practice TM can reduce a backlog of fatigue and sleep deprivation.

“When I look back at my life, I am happy to have had what most people would consider a successful life, not only in terms of business, but in my relationships and in lots of ways. More than anything else, I attribute it to meditation—partially because of the creativity, partly because of the centeredness. TM has given me an ability to put things in perspective, which has helped a lot. I think meditation has been the single biggest influence on my life.” Ray Dalio, 66, who is widely considered the most successful hedge fund manager of all time (Bridgewater Associates). He’s been practicing TM for more than 40 years.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: Sit comfortably in a chair, eyes closed and breathe.

Step 2: Mentally repeat your mantra, easily and effortlessly – for example, inhaling on so, exhaling on hum. Ideally, a mantra should be assigned to you by your teacher, with instructions for its correct use.

Step 3: Thoughts will intrude. Simply notice them, without engaging in any inner dialogue. Keep repeating the mantra. The aim is to achieve a state of “restful alertness”. For a list of recommended meditation teachers, visit iamYiam

15

Rhythm for combating the blues

Legend has it that Buddha, gaining enlightenment, slowly paced along the path beneath the Bodhi tree, experiencing joy and mindfulness. We all walk a certain amount every day, and it is an easy way to squeeze a little more mindfulness into a day full of distraction. Many people find this practice easier to implement than a sitting meditation, as movement draws our attention to bodily sensations. The key to mindfulness walking is rhythm. “Stress destroys the body’s natural rhythm” explains Dr. Stephanie Ludwig. “Rhythmic walking or running restores it, and the self falls away with rhythm”.

Step 1: Stand straight, head straight. Clasp your hands lightly above your navel, or behind your back.

Step 2: In this exercise, as you walk at a steady, rhythmic pace, be aware of your posture and balance, and the distribution of your weight as you place your foot on the round, heel to toe. Notice every phase of the movement and the sensations in your body.

Step 3: Successively, take note of your feelings (comfort/discomfort), your thoughts, your emotions as well as the sights, sounds and smells around you.

16

Treat yourself to a massage

What if we told you a 60 minute massage is about the same as 7-8 hours sleep on your body!
Massage has many forms and applications and can be beneficial both on a physical and mental level. Long hours spent sitting in one position cause stiffness, while the stresses of the workplace create mental pressures. Growing awareness among companies of these problems has led some enlightened organisations to introduce an in-office chair massage therapy programme. You simply sit back in the chair fully clothed, while the chair targets the most common areas of massage fatigue: head, neck, shoulders, back, arms and hands. Tests reported in the Journal of Applied Behavioural Science (June 1996) have found that even ‘One 15-minute [chair massage] per week can have a positive impact on reducing employees’ anxiety levels.

“If you can learn to control your breath, you can learn to control, or at least influence, how you feel both emotionally and physically” – Sam Dworkis, author of Recovery Yoga

Step 1: If your company does not offer this benefit already, do as with yoga, and approach your boss or HR department about providing on-site chair massage. In the meantime, treat yourself – one lunchtime a week, or one evening after work, to having a massage. Or reward yourself with a massage after a work achievement. iamYiam offers the opportunity to book a reputable practitioner near your office or to visit you at home.

Step 2: You can also try self-massage to relieve a stiff neck.

15

Wishful thinking

When we are tense and anxious – before an important presentation or a difficult meeting, visualising the outcome you wish for can give you the necessary confidence to pursue it. Athletes call this success tactic “mental rehearsal”. As Dr. R. Hamilton says: “Research shows that we change brain structure through repetition of imagining movements. Brain scans of people playing piano versus people imagining playing it showed the same degree of changes in the same areas of the brain. But to get the changes required repetition of the movements. […]. This is why consistency is key. You don’t become Olympic champion by going to the gym once. It’s important to do consistent visualization practice to get the best results.”

Step 1: Relax, breathe, imagine yourself performing whatever the task might be, in a calm and confident manner.

Step 2: Visualise yourself performing the task perfectly. Hone in on your expression, your gestures, imagine the approbation of your audience, your colleagues and your boss.

Step 3: Try to feel, physically, the elation engendered by your success. Dance a triumphant little jig in your mind’s eye. Confidence and lightness of spirit is key to success.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that many of the tips above are constituent elements of an ancient lifestyle, much of it inspired by the East – which comprises meditation, breathing, good posture, diet and balanced/constructive thinking.

Finally, modern science is beginning to explain the truth of ancient knowledge, allowing its wider practical application in the workplace. In the words of Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the USA: “The ancient wisdom of all religions, of our ancestors, is coming together with the findings of modern science.”

Our mind, body and spirit are all connected but it is up to each one of us to take charge of our health. Through small changes in habit, we can be responsible for nurturing ourselves to reduce stress and anxiety and improve our overall wellbeing. This will allow us to achieve optimal health and performance in our personal and professional endeavours.

  1. Breathing
  2. Mind over muscle
  3. Movement
  4. Corporate yoga
  5. Posture
  6. Head and shoulders
  7. Drink up
  8. Lunchbox
  9. Ditch the sweets
  10. Mindful snacking
  11. Supplements
  12. Aromatherapy
  13. Gratitude
  14. Meditation
  15. Rhythmic walking
  16. Massage
  17. Wishful thinking
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