Associates, practice relaxation and self-care -- at your desk

Sean Healy, The Daily Record Newswire

For many associates, making time to relax and take care of themselves seems impossible within their busy schedules.

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea (in the same way having a mandatory firm-wide nap time in the middle of the day does). But many associates express a hidden fear that, by taking time to care for themselves, they would be harshly judged by others who assume that, if you have spare time to relax, perhaps you are not working hard enough.

Not that you need convincing, but allow me to persuade you that making time to relax during your day is a good idea. First off, the idea of effectively working nonstop is a fallacy. You are able to focus your attention for only a set period of time that is dictated by your level of interest in a task and its difficulty.

As difficulty increases and interest decreases, your ability to focus diminishes. In short, the experience becomes more uncomfortable. When that happens, pain tolerance diminishes and you seek an escape.

If you don't have a scheduled escape, your brain will give you one by shifting your attention elsewhere - to checking email or researching the latest cat videos on YouTube, for example.

By giving yourself a scheduled break to relax and recharge, you will increase your pain tolerance for difficult tasks, your ability to stay focused, and recharge yourself so that your quality of work, not to mention your overall level of satisfaction, remains high.

Each person finds certain practices more rejuvenating than others, so it's important to find the relaxation technique or self-care tip that works best for you and your work situation. I also encourage you to be creative in adapting these suggestions to your workday, workspace and schedule.

Below are several relaxation techniques that can give you a much needed break from your work. These all can be done in a short amount of time, and most would be unnoticeable to a supervisor who thinks you should be working more. The most important thing to remember is that you need to find what works for you, and don't be afraid to try new techniques if one proves ineffective.

- Movement

Get up from your desk and move. If a brief walk outside is an option, that's great. A change in surrounding scenery, sounds and smells can have a significant rejuvenating effect in a surprisingly short amount of time.

If you can't get out, stretch. Practice a range of exercises to stretch your muscles and loosen tension - or even dance. Close your door, pull the blinds, put on some headphones playing your favorite music and silently dance around your office (like no one is watching). If you're able to wear flexible clothing, there are a number of yoga poses that can be done from the comfort of your office - or even your chair.

- Aromas

Of all your senses, smell is most closely linked to memory. If you can think of a relaxing or enjoyable time in your past and that memory has a scent associated with it, use it to elicit the memory and the feeling that goes along with it. For example, the smell of coconut oil often reminds me of the beach. I like the beach, so coconut oil relaxes me.

Some popular scents for relaxation are lavender, vanilla, mint, fresh air or anything that reminds you of a positive experience. Small bottles of oil, lotion, or a candle with a lid are good, contained options for the office.

- Tastes

Reserving a specific, enjoyable food or drink for break time creates a relaxing association with that taste, whether it's candy, a mint, herbal tea or coffee (if you can wait that long).

- Sounds

In the same way background music in movies sets the tone (think suspense versus comedy), background music and sounds at work can influence your sense of calm. Some options include a small tabletop water fountain, recorded nature sounds or a tranquil streaming music station on your computer. The key is to have it loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to be distracting.

- Sights

Maintain a folder of meaningful pictures on your computer (e.g., those of loved ones, kids, friends, pets, vacations, funny moments or inspirational scenes and quotes) and scroll through them during a break. Linger on the photos that encourage you or fill you with gratitude.

- Touch

Many people swear by the power of massage. Whether this is through a massaging chair, a hand-held massage wand, or simply rubbing your own tense muscles, massage can be a great tension releaser and help you to relax.

- Rest/meditation

There is much wisdom to the kindergarten technique of "heads down and eyes closed" for several seconds. On one hand, if you are sleep-deprived you may fall asleep (so set a timer); on the other hand, taking even a few moments to rest your eyes and your mind can do wonders.

Try taking your shoes off and stretching your toes. Practice deep breathing (in through the nose, out through the mouth) for a couple of minutes. Visualize yourself in a relaxing environment as you take in all that your imagination can create.

One of the most stressful experiences is feeling like you have no control over your life. If the idea of relaxing during your workday sounds impossible, it's time to realistically reassess the belief that you have no choice but to work nonstop.

By taking time to care for yourself, you benefit not only from the relaxation itself, but also from the feeling that you have control over your hectic workday. Take time to treat yourself kindly. The time is there, and you deserve it.


Dr. Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts, where he provides clinical services, groups, and writes and presents on a variety of topics germane to the practice of law. He can be contacted at

Published: Wed, Sep 09, 2015