How to Create a Stress-Free Desk at Work

30 Apr 2019

It’s natural to be a little bit stressed at work — in small doses, it can be a good fuel to get things done. But when stress levels rise too high, it can hamper and hinder your work. At worst, it can affect your health, which can lead to problems both in and out of the workplace.

With April being Stress Awareness Month, now is a great time to take a step back and evaluate your workspace and general work stress levels. If you think your space could be working harder to keep your stress levels down, then read on to find out how to build a stress-free desk.

Simple starts: tidy your desk!

The old adage goes “a tidy desk is a tidy mind”. It’s not the most revolutionary step to stress-busting, but there’s a reason it shows up again and again as the first port of call to stress-busting. One, it helps you figure out where everything is on your desk. Two, it helps you evaluate what stages different tasks are at. Three, the physical act of tidying your desk and seeing the difference gives you a sense of accomplishment. This is a great way to start the day!

It might mean coming in five minutes earlier, or leaving five minutes later, but set aside a little window of time to give your desk a clean-up each day. The chances are, you’ll need longer to do a big clean initially, but after that, if you keep it up each day, you won’t need to do a big clear-out again.

Start by physically clearing your desk and take an anti-bacterial wipe to the desktop. You’re sitting at your desk every day, so it’s important to keep it germ-free. Especially in an open-plan office where colds spread like, well, colds, wiping down your desk each day helps protect you from the inevitable germ-spreading.

Wipe down your computer monitors too, then head to your keyboard. Chances are that your trusty keyboard has picked up a few crumbs and a bit of dust. An easy trick to clean it: grab a post-it note and run the sticky part in-between the keys. This will collect up all the dust, crumbs, and hair that has fallen down between the keys. With this done, give your keyboard and mouse a wipe-over with an anti-bacterial wipe. If you use a coaster or have an ornament for your desk, now’s the time to wipe them down too.

With everything off your desk, it’s a good chance to sit down and go over any papers. Shred what you don’t need, keep only what you really do need. If possible, pin them up on a corkboard or file them away properly rather than leaving them on your desk.

With the big clean-up done, each day you’ll just need to give a little wipe-over your desk and a skim through your keyboard keys with a post-it note to maintain!

A digital spring-clean

A lot of our work is now in digital form rather than in piles of papers. But maybe your email inbox is a source of anxiety  in its own right, or o your computer desktop might be a tidal wave of icons. It’s time to give this a clean-up too.

It’s a little time-consuming, but go through your inbox and categorise what is “work in progress” and needs keeping, and delete what doesn’t. Anything you need to keep as reference store in an inbox folder to keep it out of your immediate inbox. Make use of Outlook’s follow-up feature to keep track of anything you move out of your inbox (right-click the email and choose ‘Follow-Up’, then pick the appropriate timeframe). Essentially, you’re looking to get into the habit of treating your inbox as a tray for items that haven’t been addressed in any capacity yet. Anything else is to categorise or put in appropriate folders.

You can apply a similar process to your computer desktop too. Go through any files floating on your main desktop and store them in folders and sub-folders, or delete them.

A calming environment

With your two primary workspaces tidied — both physical and digital — you can now look to improving the overall space you’re working in. Let’s face it, factoring in a half hour lunch, you spend 37.5 hours on average at your desk. Over a year, that’s around 22 per cent of your year spent sitting at your desk. With nearly a quarter of your year spent at your desk, you want to make it an enjoyable place, not a place of stress and anxiety.

A more modern trend in offices throughout the nation is to get a little greenery to your desk. A small succulent, such as a cactus or aloe plant, can bring a pleasing visual without the worry of needing to care for a plant every day — cacti in particular are quite forgiving if you forget to water them every so often. Studies have shown that plants help not only to reduce stress, but also help people recover from stress quicker. On top of this productivity is shown to increase by 12 per cent with plants in the vicinity, so it’s definitely worth bringing a little nature to your desk.

Invest in a reusable bottle and keep it at your desk

No, we’re not telling you to give up coffee and switch it for water. But keeping a water bottle at your desk alongside your cup of coffee can help flush the caffeine a little, as well as simply keeping you hydrated. Hydration is so important for staying focused and energised, but it also helps to lower stress levels. This is because dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels, which is the hormone that causes stress!

There are lots of eco-friendly stainless-steel water bottles on the market now, so you don’t have to shell out every morning for a plastic bottle of water. Ditch the single-use plastic, save money, and stay hydrated!

Learn how to use grounding

Lots of guides out there suggest doing stretches and yoga to alleviate work stress, but in the real world, this isn’t always feasible. Not everyone wants to bust a move at their desk, particularly in an open-plan office. But sneaking off to the staff toilets to crack out some sneaky yoga in a tiny toilet cubicle hardly sounds relaxing either.

For a more subtle approach to stress-busting that you can do at your desk without people noticing, try grounding. Grounding is a mindfulness technique used in many mental health treatments, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anxiety management. It aims to ‘ground’ you back into the present moment, with the understanding that anxiety and stress usually comes from a worry of the future, the past, and ‘what if’ scenarios. Instead of being lost in your thoughts and emotions over ‘there’, you’re brought back ‘here’, to the present.

Grounding techniques are great for combatting excessive stress and anxiety at work, especially if you feel you’re getting ‘caught up’ in those feelings and unable to focus on the present task at hand. There are many different techniques to achieving grounding, and different approaches work for different people. Here’s one example (though you may find another method works better for you):

  • Place both feet flat on the ground.
  • Breathe in and out slowly. Give your full attention to these breaths — consider how it feels, both when breathing in and out.
  • Feel the ground under your feet. Consider how it feels beneath your feet and shoes. Don’t move your feet, just concentrate on how the ground feels, how your shoes feel around your feet.
    • This exercise can be swapped out to suit you. Experiment with different methods to see which works for you. Some people find holding a warm cup of tea and focusing on how the warmth feels in their hands, the scent of the tea, the taste of the tea, etc. helps ground them. Others find putting music on and giving a full track their entire attention, focusing in on different details of the song, helps ground them. Experiment!

The idea is to understand that right here, right now, in this very moment, you are fine and safe. It’s a simple concept, but it can be very powerful in reducing anxiety and stress and allowing you to get your emotions down to a manageable level to continue dealing with the problem at hand much more calmly. It can also help you see the problem far more clearly and reduce the emotional ‘weight’ of it — with a calm mindset, the problem might not actually be as insurmountable as your stress and anxiety made it look!


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