Getting out into nature is one of the simplest ways to give stress the boot, but when you're on the job, you can't always dash out and hook a hammock near a bubbling forest brook. But you can harness the psychological benefits of being out in nature without leaving your desk, starting with these easy hacks.
1. Listen to meditation soundtracks.
Meditation soundtracks generally contain the nature sounds everybody's familiar with--birds, wind in the trees, thunder, whale calls. They may or may not contain soft, soothing music, as well. These kinds of unobtrusive, predictable sounds can mask other sounds around the office that are jarring and that therefore, would activate the natural "threat vigilance" system that goes off in your brain when you hear sudden, loud noises. The simplicity of the noise compared to other sounds also gives your brain a processing break, which can help you achieve a more relaxed but focused state. Not into popping on a pair of headphones all the time? Try plugging in a small desktop waterfall lamp or fountain at your desk instead. The constant, lulling sound of the water will serve the same purpose.
2. Set the screensaver on your desktop or smartphone to the sequence of a calm beach.
Just as the sound of water can block out overstimulating noises, the sight of a sparkling ocean or lake horizon is less "busy" than what you'd see in most rooms. The visual data your eyes take in send the message to the brain not to shut down, but merely to work in a different, less hyped way. For some individuals, the stark lines between the shore, water and sky might contribute to a feeling of being balanced, grounded and in control, offering focal points that deliver a clearer message to the brain about where they physically are in space.
3. Put together environmental items you can touch.
For many people (not all), receiving some sort of tactile (touch) information is very calming. It helps them to combat feelings of anxiety because tactile input passes directly through the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional regulation. The specific sensations that you find calming might be different than what someone else enjoys, and you might need different amounts of stimulation compared to others on your team, but the idea is just to give your brain some touch input that puts the breaks on your flight-or-flight stress response. Try keeping a small bin filled with rice, beans, sticks, acorns, dry moss, pebbles or other nature items on your desk. Kinetic sand is another option that's a much cleaner and controllable alternative to real sand. Run your fingers through the bin when you're feeling out of sorts.
4. Fall in love with lavender.
Lavender has a calming effect on the nervous system, decreasing elements such as blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature. It also increases theta and alpha waves in the brain. These brain wave frequencies are associated with states of relaxation, meditation and calm. They are also positively associated with creativity and memory. Keep some cut lavender flowers at your desk or sip some lavender tea to calm down and increase your productivity. If others at your job are sensitive to scents or have allergies, keeping a small vial of lavender oil at your desk provides a way for you to enjoy a quick aromatherapy session while keeping the smell more contained to your personal area.
Explore to discover even more options
Stress is a very real issue in the modern workspace, but if you understand a bit about how your body works and responds to stimulation, you basically can fool it into receiving some of the same benefits you'd get from being outside. Experiment with all of your senses, starting with these suggestions, to find the sensory tricks that are ideal for you.