“Some people are naturally Zen,” observes 27-year-old Betsy Miller. That group does not include Miller. A former clerk for Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson during U.S. v. Microsoft, Miller currently works at a Washington, D.C., dispute-resolution outfit, where she logs 60-hour-plus weeks. Think you’re stressed? Try organizing a two-day negotiation-skills workshop for 45 IRS lawyers and appeals officers, and seeing that number grow to 250 at the last minute. Then, for the benefit of far-flung taxmen, how about delivering the whole workshop live over closed-circuit TV? With your boss watching. Miller rarely takes work breaks—too much to do—and she often finds herself flustered and obsessing about decisions. At bedtime, rather than passing out from exhaustion, she occasionally lies awake worrying about work. When she gets to sleep, she sometimes has nightmares. (A recent one: A mystical woman declared that her aura was compressed.) “I like living in a high- energy world,” she says, “but I wish I knew how to take a deep breath.”
“Slow down!” says Carole Bodger, the author of Smart Guide to Relieving Stress. Like many type-A professionals, Miller may think that the more she works, the more productive she’ll be, says Bodger. But she’s actually making herself less efficient by passing up regular breaks. If Miller would interrupt her workday, even occasionally, to let her mind wander or to walk around the block, she’d find herself mentally refreshed and she’d get frustrated less often and work more effectively. As for unwinding after work, Bodger recommends some easy things to play (piano, cards) and fun things to have (a drink, sex). Here, her dawn-to-dusk stress-busting tips.
The minute you wake up, do something you love: Watch the sun rise, make a (small) pot of good coffee. Meditate, if only for a moment. Anything that gives you pleasure will do the trick, says Bodger. “It sets a tone.”
Park your car or get off the train a few blocks from your office, then walk the rest of the way. “Even mild exercise,” says Bodger, “releases hormones that combat stress and gets the brain working.”
Use Your Head
Roll your head around in a circle, then reverse direction and do it again. Do it five or ten times to work out tension in your neck, shoulders, and back. “Kids stretch all the time,” says Bodger. “They know what’s good for them.”
Do Lunch, Not Errands
Picking up the dry cleaning on the way to the bank will not lower your blood pressure. Eating a salad in the park will. If you only have a few minutes and must dine at your desk, at least venture a block or two to get your takeout instead of ordering in. “Sunshine and fresh air are rejuvenating,” says Bodger, “and you need to get away from the stressors.”
Work Off Anger
The boss didn’t like your memo? Your client’s in a blinding rage? The best way to handle a midday “issue” without going postal is to get physical, says Bodger. Walk up and down the stairs in your building; stroll around the block; sneak off to the gym; heck, break a few pencils (discreetly). “Your body is pumping with adrenaline to prepare you to fight lions and tigers,” says Bodger. “If you just sit there, the stress will build.”
Use Your Lungs
Take five deeeep, sloooow breaths from your diaphragm: Inhale through your nose for three counts, then exhale through your mouth for three. (Want a mantra? Try “so” on the inhale and “hum” on the exhale.) If your stomach rather than your chest is moving, you’re doing it right.
“My Slippers, Jeeves”
Pick an after-work routine that tells your brain the workday is over. Work out. Walk the dog, play the piano, play pinochle, soak in the tub. You can even nip into the Johnnie Walker Black. (We said “nip.”) “Imagine your body is spending the whole day taking a deep breath,” Bodger says. “This is the cue for your body to exhale.”
Eat Early, Eat Right
A healthy diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to fight stress. And eating dinner well before bedtime promotes deep, unperturbed sleep.
It doesn’t matter what you read, just as long as it’s not Blackstone or Grisham. The idea, says Bodger, is to transport your mind to a world beyond work.
Love the One You’re With
Hormones and endorphins triggered by sex cause the entire body to relax. Add a few neck rolls and you may just pass out.