Need to calm your post-work nerves? We've got you covered with these expert tips.
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Even after you've sent your last email and shut down your computer, it can be hard to truly turn off and de-stress after a long day of work. Thankfully, there are easy and effective ways (besides cradling your head in your hands and halfheartedly rubbing your temples) to calm yourself down after you walk—okay, fine—race—out the office door.
Read on to hear some tried-and-true tips from stress experts about ways to chill out stat after your office bolt—whether you're headed to the gym, to happy hour, or just home to your couch for some Netflix. (Related: 20 Simple Stress Relief Techniques)
1. Do a spine twist.
Before beginning your commute, find a quiet area where you can sit, like a bench outside the office building, and try a simple spine twist, suggests Sarah Luna, an instructor at Club Pilates. To start, perch yourself at the edge of your seat with your feet planted on the ground and reach your arms out to the sides, keeping them at shoulder height. Then twist the spine and turn your head to the right and left. Repeat a few times, then try the same motion standing up. For a deeper stretch, twist to one side then bend down to tap the opposite toe, stand to return to the twist, then untwist the spine to come to a neutral posture—then repeat on the other side. "Simply getting the blood flowing through the body with a few gentle movements helps oxygenate the major organs and muscles, allowing the body to physically un-clench and let go," adds Luna.
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2. Flip yourself. Really.
"In order for your brain to go from 'work mode' to 'home mode,' you have to do something so that your neurological system knows to compartmentalize and switch gears," explains Belisa Vranich, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and author of Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health. "Do an inversion, or something as close to going 'upside down' for a few seconds. If you can do a handstand against a wall—without scaring your coworkers!—it's the perfect mindset-switch before you walk out the door." If that sounds too extreme, you can also just fold over your legs and touch your toes (while leaning your bum against the wall) to relax your body and mind, she adds. (Related: 7 Chill Yoga Poses to Ease Anxiety)
3. Flutter your lips.
After the day you've just battled, who really cares at this point if you look ridiculous, right? "You've seen horses do it, and it really works: Take a deep breath, relax your lips, and exhale—letting your lips flutter," says Vranich. By relaxing your jaw, you send a message to your brain that it's time for a change of pace, she explains. "Your brain looks for signs in the body about how it should be thinking. A relaxed jaw is pretty much a 'text' to your brain that the environment is safe."
Jenny Arrington, a meditation and mindfulness teacher at Northwestern University and Kellogg School of Management, says chanting is the fastest and most powerful way to calm the nervous system. "Sound therapy has a proven track record and it's even more effective when we are the ones making the sound. It's an ancient practice that is making a resurgence." There are lots of mantras to chant, but for commuters in their car, Arrington recommends making the "HAM" (rhymes with "Mom") sound. "First take the biggest inhale you can, softening the belly and ribs, getting wide like a balloon, then say "HAM" at a moderate volume, for as long as you possibly can, until you can't squeak out another sound," says Arrington. Then, take another inhale and repeat. "The emphasis is on the open mouth "HA", adding them "mmm" at the last few seconds," she says. "If you're serious about getting deeply calm after intense stress, this should be your go-to."
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5. Change your clothes.
If comfy pants aren't in your company's dress code, consider bringing a pair to change into before you commute home. "Wearing tight work pants can increase abdominal pressure and cause quite a bit of discomfort to both the lower belly and the stomach," says Jane Sadler, M.D., a family medicine physician in Garland, TX. She also suggests taking off your shoes and driving home barefoot, or, if you're taking the train home, changing into open shoes, such as sandals. "Your shoes are usually tight by the end of the day and swelling may be worse when seated or immobile in the car." Also, empty your bladder as soon as work is over. "There is nothing more stressful than having to find a restroom when stuck in heavy traffic"—or while waiting on a crowded subway platform. (Related: 8 Bathroom Habits That Are Bad for Your Health)
6. Let your hair down—and get some sun.
Literally. Remove your ponytail or bun, says Dr. Sadler. "The immediate scalp relief can help that lingering tension headache." Roll your car windows down when you're traveling at slower speeds and out of the city. "If allergies are not a problem, this can be both exhilarating and soothing. The sound, sights, and smells of nature are a reminder that you are away from the office and closer to the outdoors." She suggests powering off your phone and keeping the music off so you can truly enjoy your surroundings, and soak in the feeling of the air flowing through your hair. If the sun hasn't set yet, you'll also benefit from the sun's natural phototherapy, which can lower anxiety while giving you a bonus of vitamin D infusion, she says.
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7. Inhale lavender.
Carry lavender essential oil in your bag to help chill you out after a long day, says Dr. Sadler. Lavender has a natural sedative effect, which means taking a whiff can help lower blood pressure, lower the cortisol in our bloodstream, relax the muscles, and reduce pain—which can help those tired legs at the end of the day, she says. (Related: 7 Essential Oils for Anxiety and Stress Relief)
8. Abide by the Golden Rule.
Do something nice for someone immediately after leaving work. "After I've had a long day, I will pay for the person behind me at a toll booth, or let someone merge in front of me as I'm entering the highway," says Tiffany Pottkotter, C.N.P., a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Findlay, OH. "Choosing to do kind things for others will not only make you feel better on the inside but also helps release any negative feelings you experienced during the day, allowing positive endorphins to kick in."
9. Contract the body.
"Squeeze the muscles in your body and let go of the tension," advises Alok Trivedi, D.C., a psychological performance expert and the author of Chasing Success. One surefire technique he's been using with his patients for years? "Make a fist and squeeze it really hard for four to five seconds, then release. If you're feeling tightening or tension in the feet or legs, do this same exercise with your toes, calf muscle, bum, and so forth. If you have the time, work your way from your feet to your head...and hit every key point where stress tends to hide," he says.
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10. Wash your face.
Wipe your stressful day away with a makeup remover pad or witch hazel wipe, which have a tinging, relaxing sensation, suggests Amy Derick, M.D., a Chicago-area dermatologist. "They'll calm you down, most likely lower your body temperature—and you'll feel more like 'yourself' again with a clean, makeup- and dirt-free face," she says. "Since most of us have a bedtime routine in which we wash our face thoroughly before hitting the sack, this tricks the body into thinking the day is over and signals a transition from work to home."
11. Hang a "reminder object".
Put something on your door or cubicle to touch as you leave work, such as a beach scene, colorful sticker, or an inspirational quote. "Tap the reminder object as a way to mentally 'check out,' of the office and leave stress at the door," advises Erin Goodhart, L.P.C., senior clinical director of women's services at Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. "You're mentally switching gears and therefore, your reminder object represents serenity, calmness, and safety."
12. Opt for omegas.
Grab a mood-boosting meal en route home. "Omega-3s lower levels of inflammatory markers in the brain, which has been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood disorders such as anxiety and depression," says Maria N. Vila, D.O., a family medicine physician in Morristown, New Jersey. So opt for foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids—found in wild-caught fish, such as salmon or trout and nuts, she suggests. (Here, more foods that can boost your mood.) She also suggests brewing a cup of chamomile or green tea, which contain amino acids that have a calming effect on your nervous system.