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8 Ways to Improve Your Focus and Reduce Stress

improve focus
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
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Published on May 21, 2014

Whether you are starting your summer internship or continuing an office job, here are 8 tips to improve your focus and reduce stress at work.

1. Start your day with a healthy breakfast

Eating a healthy breakfast improves cognitive performance, memory, and attention as well as gives you sustained energy for the work day. Breakfasts with a low glycemic index (e.g., fruit, whole grains, and oats) and high in protein (e.g., yogurt, eggs) have been shown to be most effective in improving cognitive performance and mood. Avoid foods with refined sugar and for sweets, substitute with maple syrup or honey instead.

2. Try deep breathing

Deep breathing and focusing only on your breath for five to ten minutes both slows your heart rate and relaxes the mind.  The more that you practice this skill daily, you can improve your anxiety when you need it most. Meditation and deep breathing exercises have been shown to improve focus and attention in children and adults with attention deficit disorder.

3. Get up and stretch

Jobs often require long periods of sitting in front of a computer, causing neck and shoulder tension and back pain, especially if posture is not well-supported. When your body is tense, that can cause and compound mental stress. Take a look at your desk and chair to make sure you’ve optimized the set up for a healthy and comfortable posture. Also take a break and try stretches and yoga geared for office settings.

4. Keep snacks on hand that are healthy

For the unexpected late nights at work, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand so you don’t have to resort to the vending machines that usually have highly processed foods, often with refined sugar. Instead, keep on hand fresh fruit such as blueberries and nuts or vegetables like carrots and celery, which have a lot more vitamins and nutrients.

5. Don’t skip lunch

It might be the first thing to go when you’re swamped at work, but skipping lunch can set you more behind over time by reducing your effectiveness and making you more irritable and fatigued. Even if it means eating at your desk, your midday meal can provide a boost of energy. Avoid heavy or spicy foods that might cause sleepiness, digestion issues, or heartburn.

6. Stay hydrated throughout the day

Working in high stress environments can cause you to forget to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and irritability. Make sure you keep water on hand and accessible throughout the day.

7. Get the blood flowing

Exercise is a key element to reducing stress and improving mood. Even if it’s hard to go to the gym on a busy work week, try adding small amounts of exercise throughout your day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or a brisk five-minute walk during lunch to get some fresh air and sunlight.

8. Put away the coffee after 4 pm, and get adequate sleep at night

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep at night. Sleep is essential in order to perform well the following day at work and significantly impacts your cognitive performance including memory and attention. Not getting enough sleep can increase anxiety and lowers the threshold for feeling stressed.

 About the Author:

Dr. Marlynn Wei is a board-certified psychiatrist and media consultant in Manhattan, New York and specializes in anxiety, stress, and career management. She uses holistic and integrative approach that includes life-style modifications, meditation/ yoga, and mindfulness. Dr. Wei works with professionals in all areas including finance, law, business, start-ups, and creative fields like film, acting, and fine arts.  Follow her at www.weitherapy.com @newyorkpsych

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD

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