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Exercises to keep you focused when you’re stressed at work

We’ve all been there. One minute you feel calm and organised and the next minute you’re pulled onto a new project, you receive a nasty email and remember you have a deadline looming – zen, be gone!

None of us are immune from the external pressures the workplace can bring. And while a little stress can actually be a good thing, pushing you into gear – more often than not it can be overwhelming and leave you feeling stuck and unfocussed.

So what should you do if you’re having one of those days, (or hey, weeks!)? Here are some proven methods that can take the edge off stressful days and help you find the focus you need to make it through the day.


When you’re stressed, your body releases adrenaline – the ‘fight or flight’ chemical – increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. In return, your breathing becomes shallow and you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain making it harder to focus.

While it may sound simple, the most effective way to calm your body and mind is to take slow and deep belly breaths. Taking just a few minutes to focus on your breathing is scientifically proven to lower your heartrate, relax your body and, you guessed it, help you regain focus.

There are a variety of apps that provide simple breathing meditations, such as Calm, Headspace and Smiling Mind. Or you can follow a simple breathing exercise like this.

Write it out

When you’re feeling overwhelmed your mind can spin with what feels like a never-ending, unachievable to-do list.

A quick way to gain a little perspective is to simply grab a pen and write down everything that’s clogging up your attention. And we mean everything – include emails you need to send, conversations you need to have, even life-admin you need to achieve outside of work.

Then, when you have your list, prioritise. Decide what must be done today and set aside tasks that can wait until tomorrow. Often, when you see everything in writing, the to-do list isn’t as bad as it seems.

Work in short bursts

If you’re still struggling to keep focussed it can help to bring in a little more structure to your work flow. Once you have your to-do list and have prioritised pick one task at a time – and don’t move onto anything else until you’ve completed that task.

Tackling each task in short bursts can be a really effective way of managing your time and regaining focus. Methods like the Pomodoro technique – where you work 25 minutes on then 5 minutes off – can help you stay focussed and complete the work at hand.

One you get on a roll; your mind will naturally refocus. And as you complete each burst of work you will feel more productive and motivated to keep going.

Take a break

When you feel like you have three-days of work to get done in two hours, it can seem counterintuitive to stop working. But here’s the thing– taking even a five-minute break to clear your head can be a really effective way of refocussing your mind and gaining a little clarity and perspective.

So get away from your computer - grab a coffee, go for a walk outside or even call one of your friends for a chat. This can help you change things up a little, get some oxygen and come back a little more refreshed.