5 simple stretches to do at your desk to feel less stressed

Sitting at our desks for prolonged periods of time doesn’t just stiffen our bodies, it stiffens our minds, too. Movement in the body allows for movement in the way that we think! When we move our bodies, we inspire creative thinking and our mental health dramatically improves. Movement stimulates our brains and helps us take on life with a literal bounce in our step!

Rear view of a businessman stretching his arms in office

We aren’t wired to remain still for hours on end – we’re built to move. We become unsettled and stressed when we don’t allow our bodies to fully function. 

We shouldn’t try to prove that we’re committed to our jobs by blindly abiding by the unsaid, toxic rule that we work without a pause. We must incorporate subtle moments to fill up our cups. These moments won’t hinder our productivity or standard of work – they’ll enhance it! We should demonstrate our excellence through the quality of our work, not the quantity of hours spent being desk-dwellers. Our bodies and minds are interconnected, when one thrives, so does the other! Creating impressive work comes more naturally when we feel physically and mentally settled.

Below you’ll find a selection of stretching techniques tailored for you to use at your desk. Ensure you practise mindful breathing and treat your body with kindness as you attempt any of these stretches.

1. The full-body stretch 

Interlock your fingers, face your palms outwards, and stretch out your arms above your head. Make sure your arms are straight and aligned with your ears. Relax your shoulders as you do this. Let your spine lengthen and almost feel your whole body elongate. Utter to yourself, with an internal whisper – ‘grow, grow, grow,’ as you stretch your arms to the ceiling. Make sure you resist the temptation to arch your back.

If you enjoy this reaching stretch, you can take it one step further by slowly and carefully letting your arms and upper body arch to the left. Hold the stretch and feel your muscles engage in your back and shoulders. Then repeat the same arching motion on the right side.

2. The lazy cat-cow

Yoga poses are brilliant for releasing tension in the body and slowing down the breath. I’ve adapted the much-loved cat-cow stretch so you can do it at your desk. This stretch is perfect for those of us who sit for extended periods of time as it significantly increases back support and stimulates a healthy spine.

Firstly, move to the edge of your chair and position your legs so they are hip-width apart. Softly, place your hands on your knees and gently bring your awareness to the sensations in your body. At intervals, round your back and inhale deeply, and then arch your back and exhale carefully. Let your head curl inwards as you inhale and gaze up as you exhale.

I recommend that you breathe out for 10 seconds and in for seven. Making our exhales longer than our inhales enables us to tap into the power of the vagus nerve, allowing us to more easily shift into a state of calmness and mental clarity – we make better decisions at work when we feel calm and collected!

3. The cheese twist

The cheese twist position allows you to improve your spinal flexibility, helps you digest food more efficiently, and relieves tension in your back! 

To occupy this position, sit so your spine is straight and cross your right leg over the other. Then delicately turn your torso towards the crossed leg while using your left arm to hold the back of your chair. Remain in this position for at least 10 seconds – if you want to stay twisted for longer, go ahead, and honour what feels right for you and your body. When you’re ready, repeat this stretch on the other side. I recommend doing this stretch twice on each side.

4. Shoulder shake 

Many of us carry a significant amount of stress in our shoulders. Our bodies absorb our tense energy and as a result, become tight and uncomfortable. A great way to release that unwanted negativity is to literally shake it off. Movement allows for the natural release of stress from our bodies.

Inhale deeply, bring your shoulders up towards your ears and hold them there tightly. After 10 seconds, release the hold and let your shoulders drop. Fully embrace the feeling of that release by exhaling slowly. Imagine as you let your shoulders rest that you’re letting go of all your worries. As you relinquish the hold, visualise your body liberating itself from all the work pressure – watch the stress drift away. Do this exercise carefully and pay close attention to the sensations in your shoulders.

An additional shoulder exercise for you: Adapt a circular motion as you roll your shoulders backwards for 30 seconds and then forward for a further 30 seconds. Savour the feeling of your muscles and joints tingling as you flow with this movement.

We often hold our shoulders tightly up by our heads when we are working hard, so be sure to frequently check in with your seated position and purposefully loosen up.

5. Chair dancing

Play some of your favourite music (if your working environment allows), and have a little dance! If you work in an office, you could make this an activity for everyone – a fun ritual that you can all join in on! This will not only boost morale by loosening up everyone’s bodies and minds, but it’ll help everyone work better together. Group activities allow everyone to feel more connected and trusting in each other.

You might initially feel embarrassed to suggest this five-minute office groove but people will find it pleasantly refreshing; it could give people a reason to be excited to go to work!

Often, the best type of movement isn’t forced, it’s free and creative! So, wave your hands in the air, sway your body from side to side, bounce your head – do whatever comes naturally to you when you hear the music! You may feel silly dancing at your desk but you’ll thank yourself later when you feel that rush of endorphins and motivation.

You can energise your work day by performing these exercises regularly but be sure to listen to your body, move intuitively, and be gentle with yourself. 

You should be proud of yourself for taking your health seriously and for looking for resources to help you protect your body during your busy work week. It’s very easy to prioritise work and neglect your well-being. We live in a world that champions working too hard and this results in a lot of people feeling unhappy and unsatisfied

We’re so much more than our work; we’re family members who love and cherish each other, we’re dreamers who have inspiring ideas, and we’re emotional beings who experience highs and lows. We deserve time and space to simply exist and be human.

Prioritise your body by sitting tall at your desk, taking frequent deep breaths to calm your nervous system, and moving when you can. Look after your body and mind, then work well.

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Written by Alessia Sutherberry
Alessia is a coach, content creator and writer who cares deeply about making people feel good about themselves. She helps people understand where their self-limiting beliefs stem from so they can foster self-awareness and self-love.
Written by Alessia Sutherberry
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