Kill Stress in Five Minutes or Less



  • Stress can make you see trends or patterns that don't really exist
  • People who meditate regularly have better brain functioning and are less depressed than non-meditators
  • Instead of complaining to coworkers, discuss problems to your boss or supportive peers

We all know work-related stress can do a number on our physical and emotional health. But when you're facing an overflowing inbox, a calendar full of meetings, and impending work deadlines, taking time to relax at the office doesn't always seem like an option.

Luckily, even if you've got just a few minutes, these research-based tips from McCombs School of Business faculty can help you get calm, centered, and back to work.

Do a reality check. Convinced your co-workers are conspiring to make you look bad? When we feel a lack of control — like, say, from a surprise last-minute assignment — we might see trends or cause-and-effect patterns around us that don't really exist, research by Assistant Professor of Management Jennifer Whitson shows. So before you hit "send" on an angry email or confront a co-worker, consider whether it's the stress talking on your behalf.

Get back in the moment. Meditation isn't just for the yoga studio. Rather than dreading upcoming deadlines or stewing about that rude driver on your morning commute, pause and redirect your attention to the present moment. "You force your mind to focus on a particular object or a particular activity," says Associate Professor of Marketing Raj Raghunathan. Science is proving that meditation works: A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal found that by meditating each day for eight weeks, family members caring for relatives with dementia had better brain functioning and were less depressed than a group of non-meditators who instead listened to music.

If you're new to the practice, exercise your meditation muscles by counting to 20 in your head or simply paying attention to your breathing. When you're feeling stressed, focusing on something you do have control over, however small, can calm runaway thoughts. That may be part of the reason why concentrating on your breathing, even for five minutes, is effective. "That's five minutes in which you had an achievable goal," Whitson says.

Confide carefully. Need a gripe session? Instead of complaining to your cubicle-mates, take problems to your boss, who, after all, can actually do something about them. Research by Ethan Burris, an associate professor of management, reveals that when you complain to peers, your work performance actually worsens. If you still feel like you need to voice your troubles to your office mates, you'll do the least damage by at least choosing the right co-workers. Seek social support from — rather than just complaining to — peers who are warm and competent to give advice.

Still convinced your time would be better spent powering on rather than pausing to lower your stress? Know this: If you address your stress, the quality of your work may improve. You'll do better on that important pitch or presentation if you're in a good mood and not a stress monster, Raghunathan says.

So when the boss asks why you are sitting peacefully at your desk with your eyes closed you can reply truthfully that you're just being results-oriented.


Faculty in this Article

Raj Raghunathan

Professor, Marketing

Raj Raghunathan earned his Ph.D. from the Stern School of Business at New York University. His work juxtaposes theories from psychology,...

Ethan Burris

Associate Professor of Management McCombs School of Business

Dr. Ethan Burris is an Associate Professor of Management and the Thomas E. & Terry Smith...

Ethan Burris teaches in the Texas Executive Education program, featuring open enrollment, custom and certificate classes for executives and organization teams.

Jennifer Whitson

Assistant Professor of Management McCombs School of Business

Jennifer Whitson received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University in Management and Organizations, and her B.A. from the University of California,...

About The Author

Jeremy Simon

Writer, McCombs School of Business

As a writer for Texas Enterprise, Jeremy covers business-related research and news from the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, he manages...

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