Everybody stresses out sometimes. No matter how you feel about your job or life overall, there’ll inevitably be moments in the office or outside of it when you’re feeling antsy or can’t focus. Maybe you know exactly why you’re anxious or maybe it’s a general sense of restlessness that you can’t quite explain.
That’s normal. In the long run, you should of course try to pinpoint what’s bothering you and why and take steps to address it—whether you realize you hate your job, need to get more comfortable having honest conversations with your boss, or are anxious upon returning from vacation or the weekend.
But in the short run, you’ll want to have a strategy or two in your pocket that you can pull out right now to get back on track—and that might also help you identify the underlying issue.
1. Go for a Walk
Taking a walk can get you thinking, boost your creativity, and just make you feel better. And you don’t have to go on one long excursion; science says even the accumulation of five-minute walks is good for you.
2. Make Lists
Jill Pante, director of the University of Delaware’s Lerner Career Services Center, makes lists when she’s feeling off. She keeps two spiral notebooks for her to-dos and fills one with immediate tasks and the other with ongoing tasks and projects that don’t have a clear or immediate deadline.
“It helps me put priorities in perspective and makes me feel better when I start crossing things off,” she says. “Lists help get all the chaos out of my mind and into a ‘controlled’ place.”
3. Clean or Organize
Cleaning can help let out frustration, use up anxious energy, slow down your thoughts, and foster a sense of calm and control. So, whether you tidy up your desk or clean your dishes from lunch, try getting yourself organized and back in the zone. And if that’s not enough, tackle a bigger space when you get home.
4. Look at Cute [Insert Animal Here] Videos
When Ai Onda, a fullstack engineer at The Muse, is feeling overwhelmed or distracted at work, “I turn to watching videos of puppers,” she says. “They’re so innocent and are genuinely [in] good spirits and seeing them being silly makes me laugh and reminds me everything will be okay.”
Need some suggestions? Check out our favorite videos for a bad day.
5. Plan a Vacation
If the puppies aren’t quite enough, or if Onda is looking for an alternate strategy, she likes to plan a vacation—or even just look for cool places she might want to visit sometime.
“It subconsciously reminds me the world is big and also allows me to look forward to things,” she says. “I get frustrated when things are stagnant and traveling allows for change.”
6. Do Whatever Exercise You Do
There’s really nothing like moving your body to get out of your head. After some of the most difficult days I’ve had at the office, taking a dance or fitness class has often helped me channel my nervous energy and forced me to focus on something that’s not work.
As Kat Moon wrote for The Muse, “apart from feeling more energized and focused when I work, knowing that I can accomplish my daily workout goals gives me confidence in achieving all of my other goals—especially the more challenging ones at work.”
If you can’t fit in an hour-long workout, Jennifer A. Maguire, a PR specialist in New York City, recommends shadow boxing on tough days.
When she discovered it for the first time, “naturally, I felt energized, but some other kind of thing happened,” she says. “My mind re-aligned. I felt more purposeful and strategic. I suppose the emotional bravado that comes with the Rocky theme and ‘Momma Said Knock You Out’ that instantly started playing in my head didn’t hurt.”
7. Talk to a Friend
When there’s something on my mind that I just can’t let go of, sometimes the only way to prevent it from interfering with my day is to talk about it. That might mean taking a walk with a co-worker or having a 10-minute conversation on Gchat. In my experience, releasing any pent-up concerns makes them a little bit lighter—and it’s usually enough to let me focus in the short term.
8. Spend Time in Nature
Set aside a bigger chunk of time (if you can) to take a longer walk or spend some time in nature, even if it’s the park across the street from your office. Studies show this can benefit both your physical and mental health.
Regina Moravek, a contributor to The Muse who spent 15 years working in HR, feels compelled to make time for this and tries to do it every day.
“With the gorgeous smells, beauty, and sounds (of birds, breezes) rests my soul and relaxes my mind,” she explains. “It allows me to think through what I am processing in my life, in a natural way,” she adds. “Somehow the most pressing issues you’re dealing with or issues you’ve unknowingly tucked away present themselves to you to process in a less-rushed manner. Almost as if being in a natural environment prioritizes them for you and allows you to calmly think through them.”
9. Take in Art, Music, a Movie, or a Book
Soon after Lara McCaffrey graduated from college, she was working as a document clerk at a securities law firm—a good job that nevertheless frequently swung toward tedium and stress.
“When I felt like my brain was fried, I’d walk across the street to the modern art museum,” says McCaffrey, now a freelance journalist based in California. “I always left feeling rejuvenated and inspired. There’s something about seeing art, listening to a catchy album, or seeing a great movie that stimulates your mind,” she explains. “It’s an escape that makes you think and feel alive.”
If your usual reaction to stress or restlessness at work isn’t really working for you, it might be time to try something new. At best, you’ll find a new way to calm down and focus. At worst, you’ve taken a walk or seen some great art.
Photo of person walking outside courtesy of d3sign/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author