Many of us work long hours at a desk, likely hunched over and carrying lots of tension in both our shoulders and upper backs. On stressful days we might find it hard to get up and move our bodies too. That’s especially true if that stressful day becomes a common occurrence and you start feeling it physically, mentally and impacting your productivity and creativity. This underlines the importance of getting out of that chair and moving.

In the spirit of May being both Physiotherapy Month AND Mental Health Awareness Month, we thought a good topic to cover was office stretching and a new term: deskercise! Yes, you read that right - it’s not a typo. It’s exercise at your desk, and it can truly be the key to getting through a stressful day, week or month and setting yourself up for success by improving your productivity and creativity. In this blog we’ll cover the effects of sitting at our desks for too long and offer some simple tips and stretches to help us physically and mentally.

The Physical and Mental Toll of Desk Work

Work can be stressful for anyone and this includes those who work desk jobs. There are a lot of demands on time, capacity, and productivity, all while adapting to ever-changing circumstances and economic times. Over the last few years in particular, people have had to adjust to new ways of working as remote work has become more common, whether full-time or part-time. But even though there are perks to working from home (so long rush hour), the tempo, pace and intensity of work hasn’t really changed. Those with desk jobs are still spending long stretches seated in front of their computer screen, which can translate into stress held in the mind and body.

We often look at stress from a mental perspective, and the toll it takes on our minds is very real. Getting up from your desk for a stretch break and creating some movement in your body can do a lot for your mental health in lowering your stress levels. But we hold stress in our bodies too, and often that looks like tension. You might not even be aware of this! If you’re seated at your desk now while you read this, try a few things: breathe in and out and lower your shoulders; unclench your jaw and let it go slack, and remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth. You were likely holding tension in your shoulders or jaw, which is stress manifested in your body.

Outside of these elements, stress felt at work can impact your concentration, creativity and productivity which obviously impacts your performance at work.

If you haven’t moved from your chair in a few hours and you’re experiencing a particularly stressful day, you’re likely feeling the effects of it in your body and your mind. Deskercise can help!

Deskercise: More than a Stretch Break

The reset your body and mind gets when you get up from your chair and move away from your desk can be powerful. The ideal is a mid-day walk that gets you outside into fresh air and gets your heart pumping. But this mid-day break unfortunately isn’t always a reality, especially on those busy days.

On those days if you don’t have time for a walk outside, you might want to write off the possibility of getting away from your screen. But don’t be so quick to do so! You can actually get quite a few benefits in a short period of time while at your desk with some deskercise and a stretch break.

So what’s deskercise? It’s exactly what it sounds like - exercise at your desk. It’s a great option for those busy days. The best part? You don’t even need  to break out of your chair for these. It’s as easy as it sounds - here are some stretching at your desk tips:

  1. One arm stretch - so much tension and stress is in our shoulders and upper backs when we’re working at a desk. Take one arm and pull it across your chest with the opposite arm, keeping your shoulders down. You should feel this stretch in your shoulder and upper arm.
  2. Office chair stretch - wrap your arms around the back of your chair while seated, holding onto your wrists. Feel the stretch through your arms, shoulders and chest.
  3. Reach up - while seated lift both arms up over your head and interlace your fingers. Stretch up and feel the stretch through your arms, torso and back.
  4. Calf raises - sitting for long periods can be tough for your legs and you want to get blood flowing. For this stretch get out of your chair and stand behind it. While holding onto the back, lift up onto the ball of your foot into a calf raise. You should feel this stretch in both calves.
  5. Seated hamstring stretch - another great leg stretch, this one is for your hamstrings on the backs of your legs. While seated, extend your legs out straight in front of you, feet flexed. Reach your arms out and extend your reach forward toward your toes. Hold this stretch and feel it behind your knees and back of your thighs. This is like a seated forward fold.
  6. Spine twist - twists are great stretches to help with tension in your back. In this stretch, stay seated in your chair with your feet on the ground. Twist to the right and look behind you, holding the stretch. Then try twisting to the other side.
  7. Wrist stretch - long times spent at your desk and typing away on a keyboard means you should give your wrists some attention. For this stretch, press your palms together in front of you and hold for 15 seconds. Then press the backs of your hands together and hold for another 15 seconds. Repeat this a few times to get a good wrist stretch.

These stretches will help release some stress in your body, but what about your mind? Read on for some tips on releasing stress mentally while at your desk to help improve your concentration, productivity and creativity.

Mental Tips for Desk-Bound Relaxation

Taking a pause in the middle of your busy day, however often you need to, can be a useful way to reset your mind Here are some tips for workplace stress relievers that you can do at your desk:

  1. Progressive muscle relaxation - like we mentioned above, physically the stress we carry often settles as tension in our muscles, especially in our necks, shoulders and upper backs. In progressive muscle relaxation, think about releasing the muscles in these areas one at a time.
  2. Visualization is another tool you can use when you’re desk-bound but need to release some stress. Tune out your surroundings and focus on your breathing while you visualize a relaxing spot that feels good to you, like a beach, your favourite spot to relax at home or mid-trail on a hike to name a few. When you’re visualizing your relaxing spot, think about the smells and sounds of that spot to bring your mind closer while continuing to breathe.
  3. Breathing is a powerful tool that we often overlook, but your breath can be a way to regulate your emotions and lower your stress levels during a busy day at your desk. Focus on deep breathing - inhale through your nose while counting to 4 in your head, and then breathe out through your mouth while counting to 4. Think about your breath moving in and out of your core and focus your attention on the in and out motion.
  4. Mental breaks can help literally give your mind a break when you’re in the midst of a stressful workday. If you can’t step away from your desk, close your work browser and listen to a funny podcast for a few minutes or peruse the funny memes your co-workers have shared. The key is to laugh a bit, as laughter can help relax tension in your body and ease stress.

Make these stretches part of your work routine and you’ll likely feel the positive effects on your mood, concentration, productivity and creativity, even in the middleof a busy day.