Fifteen minutes of calm -- Open your window of tranquility

by Susan Stuck

15 min calmA tough day at work can be like a drop-kick to your psyche. Tight deadlines, office politics and just plain overwork can wear you down.

Some days even a four-shot latte isn't enough to get you in gear.

But what if you were able to find a way to escape — right in the middle of your workday — and find some time just for you?

When you find productivity to be lagging, consider this: You might need to slow down a little to be able to speed up. Here are three suggestions for building a small window of tranquility into your busy schedule.

Create your calm

Make a pot of tea

The health benefits of drinking tea are well established. In England, most office workers don't have to get up from their desks to make tea. They can simply wait for the tea lady to come by with her tea trolley. We're not so lucky. But the act of making a good pot of tea can have its own mood-boosting effect. Brewing tea is a ritual, and it can be calming.

The best cup of tea is made in a pot that has been warmed beforehand. Rinse out the teapot with a swirl of boiling water and add one heaping teaspoon of tea leaves per person (or one teabag per person), plus one extra for the pot. Add boiling water. Allow 5 minutes for the tea to steep. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a teacup.

"Gilgit Tea" is an especially aromatic, soothing brew: Add 2 or 3 cracked cardamom pods to a pot of Chinese green tea. Or, drop a slice of candied ginger into a cup of hot black tea: When you finish the tea, eat the ginger.

Make a small floral arrangement

You don't have to have a green thumb to bring a bit of the outdoors into the office. Keep a small, plain vase on your desk for impromptu arrangements.

Floral designer Kristin Benton of Vergennes, Vt., suggests plucking a few stems of Queen Anne's lace or grasses with heads from along the roadside in the summer. In the spring, you might cut some twigs with apple blossoms. In the fall, look for a spray of oak leaves with acorns on them. "Arrange three or five cuttings in your hand the way you want them to look, then cut the stems to the right length. Place in the vase with warm water. If the blooms look a little droopy," she says, "add a few grains of sugar to the water."

Another benefit of having flowers in your office is the stress-relieving impact of their scents! Aromatherapy has been shown to impact mood. Try lavender or vanilla for relaxation, or mint for an energy boost.

Take a really short nap

The coffee shop in the lobby has stopped carrying your favorite energy bars, the refrigerator case is out of Red Bull and those energy strips give you bad breath. Whoa! Why put so much energy into seeking energy?

In their book The Joy of Laziness (Hunter House, 2003), authors Peter Axt and Michaela Axt-Gaderman describe the rejuvenating benefits of the 30-second nap. It's simple: Sit in chair with your feet firmly on the floor and rest your elbows on your knees while holding your key chain in one hand. Let your head hang down. Exhale slowly and try to shut out distractions. The minute you nod off, you'll drop the keys and wake back up. This may take some practice, but you'll find even the practice has a calming effect.

Susan Stuck is the food editor for Alere and has written about healthy, low-fat cooking for more than 20 years.

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