Walking Away from the Desk

We all get stressed occasionally. The work piles up, deadlines loom, and every new fact or message becomes a cause for increased stress or panic. It’s not fun.

The last thing you think you should do when a lot of work is screaming for your attention is to take a break. However, that’s precisely what I’m suggesting you do. There are still folks out there who smoke cigarettes and take a smoke break. My father’s been a long-time smoker, and I know that a lot of times the cigarette helped him calm down. (Never mind the other health risks–I recognized the behavior.) Given that reality, I decided that it was perfectly acceptable for me to take a “nonsmoking break,” a habit I started when I worked for a smoking boss 20 years ago.

It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes away from your desk (your boss might notice that), but 5-10 minutes can often be enough. Use the restroom if you have to–and that sort of pressure will add to your stress–but then take an extra 5 minutes and walk down the hall. Visit another floor, step outside, or talk to a friend at the water cooler or on the phone.

The important thing is to get away from your desk for a few minutes. Your brain won’t stop processing what’s going on, but what will happen is that you’re able to get some perspective without the pile of paper or the long list of emails on the screen clamoring for your attention. I gave up feeling guilty about this sort of thing soon after I started it. Just getting the time away from the desk gave me enough of a pause to reset my internal energy and focus on what I needed to do. Another good thing to do during this sort of quick break is to stretch. Odds are, you’ve locked your body into a tense position, and your arms, legs, and back need a break as well.

The break can also be used to talk to a coworker or boss about what you’re doing–maybe to commiserate, or maybe just to help you sort out priorities when everything seems like “priority one.” And, again, the time away from the work pile enables you to stop focusing on individual trees, take in the forest, and identify what you need to do next.

So, again, if you find yourself “chained” to your desk with a heavy workload, pause and walk away. And if you’re so inclined, head for your nearest smokers’ area and smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.* The release of tension will help relax your mind and body and help you handle that workload much, much better.

* Please note that I am not advocating that you take up smoking. The idea here is just that you get away and try to relax for a few minutes.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Directior, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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