Simple stress reduction to improve your productivity, focus, and sanity

Last night officially marked the start of the Major League Baseball season. To celebrate, I drove around town running errands with the windows down, the Cardinals-Marlins game playing on the AM radio, and a ridiculously silly smile across my face.

As I went from location to location, I was blissfully content and stress free. There is something incredibly relaxing about listening to baseball games on the radio. I don’t know if it’s the sound of the announcer’s voice, the crack of the bat, the pops of the radio signal over the AM waves, memories of listening to games as a kid, or a mixture of these four things and more that work their magic to calm me. Whatever the reason, a baseball game on the radio has the same restorative result on me as a day at the spa.

My morning coffee-making ritual affects me in a similar way. And, there is a stretch of the Kansas Turnpike when you’re heading south out of Emporia, about 10 miles before passing the Cassoday exit, where the view of the Flint Hills is so breathtaking it’s impossible to experience anxiety until you reach Wichita. These common moments of pure relaxation may seem rare, but their ability to bring calm in an otherwise stressful day are essential to your productivity, competence, and sanity.

When clients mention they are having difficulty focusing because of a stress-filled mind, I ask them what ordinary activities relax them and allow them to regain a sense of calm. Many have no idea. They can name beach vacations, entire days at the spa, and other extraordinary experiences that calm them, but it’s difficult to name simple activities in their regular routines that reduce stress.

If you’re someone who has difficulty finding common activities that help to reduce your stress level, start paying attention to when you have a ridiculously silly smile on your face. Are you listening to a baseball game on the radio? Are you on a short walk back to your office after getting lunch? Are you writing with a favorite pen? When you identify these actions, try your best to incorporate them into your everyday schedule. Take a short walk away from your desk when frustrations flare. Replace the pens in your desk drawer that you dislike with only your favorite brand. Or, if you’re like me, keep a radio app on your smartphone to listen to a baseball game whenever you need to.

I’ll be tuning my radio to the Nationals-Cubs game today at 2:20 pm EDT. What small activity will you do today recharge, regain focus, and relax?

25 Comments for “Simple stress reduction to improve your productivity, focus, and sanity”

  1. posted by gypsy packer on

    An iPod with ambient nature tracks works wonders. Driving in the country used to do it for me, but that was before the advent of texting drivers.

  2. posted by DawnF on

    I love to listen to a CD with sounds of the ocean when I need to relax. It’s not nearly as awesome as being at the beach, but it certainly makes me smile.

    I also enjoy listening to Chris Botti play the trumpet when my mind is stressed at work ~ the beautiful music helps me clear my mind.

    I look forward to reading other comments on this interesting post!

  3. posted by Marrena on

    Why do I get the feeling that only women are going to respond to this question? :D

  4. posted by Rebecca on

    I love this post, and second the “moments of beauty while driving in Kansas” as a wonderfully zen-filled experience. I also have trouble being stressed when I’m on a porch near a body of water with a cup of coffee. That’s pretty much heaven.

  5. posted by chacha1 on

    For everyday stress reduction, I have created a series of visuals in my office cubicle. A photo from my wedding. A silly painting I did. A map of the U.S. (Imus Geographics, it’s beautiful) to inspire ideas for future road trips. A map of the world, for future dream trips. A Conservancy calendar with gorgeous photos (this month’s is an adorable saw-whet owl). I also make a point of taking a good long look out an office window at least once a day, usually toward the ocean.

    At home, I’ve got things pretty close to the way I want them, and the entire place is a stress reducer 99.9% of the time.

  6. posted by Beth on

    Erin, we love that stretch of turnpike too! It’s so beautiful, and we make that trip at least once a month to visit our daughter, her husband, and our granddaughter. Don’t know if you’ve driven it at night, but while my husband drives it, I can just lean back and enjoy the stars, which are as beautiful along that stretch of dark road as anywhere I’ve seen them.

  7. posted by Renee on

    I like to read: I relax, I vanish from the area until someone asks me a question…

  8. posted by Susan on

    Over 60 years ago my Dad would take the tv outside and set it up under the maple tree on a little table – it was a little tv. Then he would turn on the radio and use the radio as audio while watching the tv screen. I think he was very relaxed…

  9. posted by lisa on

    I read those first 2 paragraphs with joy— YES! I loved my grandpa so dearly and have vivid memories of sitting in a hot parking lot in the green Nova with the windows rolled all the way down, listening to the Cubbies game with him while my Nana was inside the Piggly Wiggly or Eagle. The week I spent at my grandparents’ house every summer made for some of my fondest memories as an adult. I haven’t listened to a baseball game on the radio since my childhood, but guess what I’m gonna do this summer? Thanks, Erin.

  10. posted by Amanda on

    Listening the NPR, especially Car Talk, in the house. Calming. Same clam feeling does not occur while listening in the and driving. Driving music for me is samba or old motown.

  11. posted by Debi on

    I feel quite the same way about baseball – Last night, after an incredibly stressful day, I had a glass of wine and was delighted to find Vin Scully on MLB TV last night. I’m not a Dodgers fan, but love the way he calls a game.

  12. posted by Emily on

    Right before he went to bed, my dad would always turn on the dishwasher. That sound is still a signal to me that the day is winding down. I often turn on the dishwasher a little earlier than he did, just so that I can enjoy it for a little bit before I start my bedtime routine.

  13. posted by Patrick on

    Jazz. I have a pretty stressful job, so when I need to focus, I hunker down and play a Jazz station on Pandora. It calms me immediately and I get way more done.

  14. posted by Carol Swedlund on

    When my favorite song, “Daydream Believer” is unexpectedly played on my car radio I immediately forget any traffic stress I might be experiencing. (Of course, on my iPod, I can play it over and over if I want to :) but it’s not expecting it that is really a happy experience.) And I love looking at great white fluffy clouds. All seems right with the world then.

  15. posted by DivaJean on

    Taking the time out to make a cup of tea always helps me regroup my thoughts. Then those first few sips of tea help re-ivigorate with the caffeine.

  16. posted by DawnH on

    The ritual of setting up the morning coffee the night before. The part of the morning commute where I cross the Bayside Bridge over part of Tampa Bay, with the pelicans and seagulls doing there thing, and the occasional dolphin sighting. And my office – a nest I have made my own and a setting in which I am usually content.

  17. posted by Kate on

    I just recently realized, at the age of 44, that I get way more excited and happy at seeing animals than most adults I know do. Not exotic ones. I love watching the squirrels, robins, geese, pigeons, and raccoons in my neighborhood. I love watching seagulls circle overhead, I love the sound crows make. I stop and try to get the attention of every cat in every window I pass. I can’t help it, it gives me joy!

  18. posted by Vicki on

    This post reminds me of my great aunt who used to quilt while listening to baseball games on the radio. We still have many of her old quilts – she was an expert quilter as well as baseball aficionado. :)

  19. posted by Dede on

    I found a nature CD of a crackling bonfire at the ocean and that works wonders in headphones. When I’m at work and can’t wear headphones, that’s a little harder. I really need to find a de-stresser that isn’t edible. Sometimes just a walk outside, or leaving the door open for fresh air is exactly what I need.

  20. posted by snosie on

    I used to have that coffee zen moment, as the sun came up on the facing apartment block, and I cherished not being in the highway of traffic I could see… Now we’ve moved office, it’s not the same.

    I always have moment of pure joy when I get the vista of the sea, or the city. Like when the road rises, and when it starts to fall you can see the horizon (and a sunrise helps for the city scape!)

    And there are certain songs that can play and just drift all the worries away… shame they aren’t played more on the radio

  21. posted by katrina on

    Sitting in a quite corner of a cafe with a cup of tea and a notepad. Or doing puzzles, sudokus etc. And watching an old episode of Doctor Who – even the theme music makes me smile.

    @Kate. I like watching the antics of the neighbourhood animals and birds too. Sometimes they’re so predictable and other times they do cute, unexpected things.

  22. posted by susan on

    My great-granparents lived in Emporia and we took that drive every summer when I was young. Thanks for the memories.

  23. posted by Kate on

    @ Katrina: Glad I’m not alone in my animal joy!

  24. posted by Jasmine on

    I’m a college student, and when I’m amidst an overwhelming load of studying (plus responsibilities like buying groceries and doing laundry), I invite my friends over to the nearby park for a Nerf gun war. All the stress and anxiety disappears when we’re running around, shooting each other with our toy guns. Even though we’re all fully grown adults, we have no problem acting like children, because it’s fun. Sure, we have to clean up the mess of foam bullets when we’re done, but it’s worth it for the sheer joy this activity brings us.

    We all can’t help but smile and laugh! And the best part is that it’s great exercise. A good Nerf war energizes me and makes my mind and body ready to handle the rest of the day.

  25. posted by Annie on

    Baseball has saved my sanity, especially over the past year with finally giving up the storage space and now going into the task of decluttering my Nana’s place

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