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10 Good Pick-me-ups for When You’re Tired, Sad, or Stressed at Work

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tired worker leaning head on laptop at desk
Feeling tired? Maybe a little down? You’re not alone. Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt the afternoon slump or were just having a bad day that completely sapped your energy?

I thought so!

With most of us returning to the office in 2021 and 2022, many of us (especially introverts) may be suffering a more extreme energy drain.

Because, dare I say? Open office plans, which are standard nowadays, really do suck.

This slump can happen with anyone, though. Whether you work from home, are a stay-at-home parent, if you’re on a long drive after a long flight, or if you just so happen to be a living human that knows a 2-hour nap at 3 p.m. is just not going to happen today, no one can be perfectly happy and energetic every hour of the day!

As I wrote most of these tips, I had the open office plan worker in mind, as privacy is always an issue there. But many of the tips here can be used pretty discretely or done just about anywhere.

Each of these tips I’ve tried personally, and yes, you will get some short-term relief that will at least get you to quittin’ time!

So here’s a list of 10 great pick-me-ups. You are certain to find at least one that works!

1. Scalp Massage

photo of wired scalp massage tool
Scalp massage can relax you and lower stress. This wire tool is self-serve! No extra hands required.
Photo credit: Anna Fedorova on Deposit Photos

Did you know that a brief scalp massage can make a noticeable difference in your stress levels and blood pressure? This 2015 study seems to have proven it!

Though most of us lowly office workers don’t have on-site massage, you can try to duplicate that study’s effect with a nifty scalp massage tool. Please don’t ask your coworkers to help you with this, though. Self-service only.

If you don’t think this will wake you up or relax you, just try it! You’ll want to probably find a private spot to use this (car, wellness room, etc.), as it’s an oddly shaped contraption that will only generate a lot of questions (“What is that?), probably just leaving you even more annoyed.

2. Use a Foam Roller for Tight Muscles

photo of woman using a foam roller on sore muscles from sitting at a desk all day
If you can find a private area, using a foam roller on tight muscles is a great way to relieve midday tension.
Photo credit: Racorn on Deposit Photos

Again, if privacy is an issue, you probably won’t be able to do this in your open office plan or cubicle. But if you have a wellness room, which a lot of offices are equipping themselves with these days, you can “foam out” your stress without changing into any special clothes.

Focus on the back and shoulders, even the hips, all areas which get really worn down and stiff from all that desk sitting and computer use.

Five to ten minutes, and those stiff shoulders may be good as new!

3. Get a Blast of Really Cold Air

photo of snow-covered trees
A blast of cold air can really jolt you awake if you’re drowsy. Photo credit: Ottabatta on Pixabay

Cold has a unique impact on tiredness. When you’re colder, your body has to work a bit harder to maintain temperature, so it keeps you alert.

Ever stepped out in the early morning cold from a warm house or apartment? You’re suddenly wide wake!

If this is really uncomfortable for you, especially if the temps outside are extreme, then don’t try it. But the point is that it’s not exactly supposed to be comfortable.

Another modification of this is to use a molded ice pack or freezer bag filled with ice to apply to the pulse points like wrists, elbows, and back of the neck. I’ve even used ice packs on my eyelids when my eyes were itchy and bloodshot from hours of screen staring. You could even subtly open that break room freezer, lean your head in slightly, and just stare ahead and count to 20—I doubt anyone’s paying attention!

4. Sit in the Sun for a Few Minutes

photo of woman sitting in sun on a bench reading a book
Adding a few minutes of sun can have both a calming and energizing effect. Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Just a few minutes’ in the sun can provide a similar mood boost and stress-reducing benefit, if warmth is more your speed.

Apparently when sunlight hits the skin, it actually produces a blood-pressure lowering effect. That’s in addition to some much-needed Vitamin D! Hello, serotonin.

And did I fail mention that most offices are just drab and downright ugly? The whole sterile gray carpet and beige cubicle vibe can also make us feel completely detached from the natural world.

So walk outside and find a sunny area that’s not too unpleasant. Notice the different smells and sights around you; grass, dirt, flowers, even the restaurants and shops. Ten minutes should do it.

If you can convince your boss to let you take the conference call outside in the park, then lucky you!

5. Add Greenery or Flowers with Light Fragrance to Your Desk

photo of pink flowers in small glass vase filled with water
Add a lightly scented flower to your desk to brighten the mood. Photo credit: Nioloxs on Deposit Photos

The power of green and scent can be magical. Hence all the obsession with houseplants that’s been happening over the last decade.

How can you have both?

Fresh cut flowers, of course. If you can swing it, some office buildings have gift shops that sell subtly scented flowers, or you can swipe a couple from the nearby park (just don’t go crazy, and look for signs that prohibit this).

Whatever the case, make sure it’s somewhat fragrant. But check with your workmates first for any sensitivities; something powerful like gardenia or jasmine may irritate others.

For spring and summer you have many options; for winter, evergreens like cedar, eucalyptus, or some juniper varieties can make it feel very holiday-ish. Just be sure to check first, as these can be allergy-triggering for some.

6. Rosewater Spray or Facial Mist

photo of rosewater spray and essential oils
Rosewater or alcohol-based facial sprays can be an excellent pick-me-up, especially if it’s hot and humid.
Photo credit: Nizhny Novgorod on Deposit Photos

Rosewater is fantastic in the summer, and a quick spritz in the afternoon or after a sweaty train ride can make you feel kind of fancy.

I actually love the aloe variety in this brand, as it smells light and clean and a bit less like grandma’s bathroom potpourri. Disclaimer: Even though the scent is very light for this spray, I would suggest you not be too liberal with this stuff. If your office is anything like mine, there is that one person who is extremely bothered by any scent whatsoever within a 10-mile radius, no matter how delicate, and will passive aggressively complain or sigh the whole freaking day. Three spritzes should do it.

All kidding aside, if scents bother you (or the constantly-complaining office Linda), there are unscented facial sprays on the market that are usually made with alcohol, witch hazel, or glycerin that will not offend.

7. Flavor-up that Seltzer – It’s Mocktail Time!

photo of seltzer water flavored with various kinds of berries and fruit
Turn your so-so flavored seltzer into an exciting seltzer. Photo credit: Charlotte May on Pexels

Mocktails at work? Why not?

Again, this is the magical power of your nose and taste buds at work here that can jolt you awake, or just simply break up the day.

Seltzer water now comes in all sorts of fun flavors, but I really like to kick it up a notch with bitters or highly fragrant herbs and fruits when I’m feeling tired or just a little bit bored.

Rosewater is my favorite cocktail flavoring and is great paired with strawberry, coconut, or berry seltzers. It can also work in plain seltzer.

Lemon juice, some lemon zest, a dash of sugar or syrup, and fresh basil in a lemon-flavored or plain seltzer is a great combination, too.

Fresh mint works well with strawberry or lime seltzers.

Throw in berries, kiwi, citrus, or maybe even some hibiscus flowers in syrup if you can get your hands on them.

Warning on using bitters: if you have a zero-zero-zero tolerance alcohol policy at work, check the labels on bitters before bringing them in. Some of these are preserved in alcohol; although truthfully, you’ll be using very minuscule amounts. The rosewater brand I buy does not contain any alcohol.

8. Spend a Minute Just Hanging

Here’s a really short move in-between back-to-back meetings or calls that you can do which doesn’t involve the office inappropriateness of the downward dog yoga position.

Bend over for about 30-60 seconds, as if you are trying to touch your toes, and then lift back up. Do this a couple of times. Pair it with some deep breathing if you like and you have the instant espresso effect!

Do I know why it works? No. But the surgical advisor for the Grey’s Anatomy TV show says it works, and that is all I need to know!

9. Clean Something

photo of man cleaning a laptop screen with laptop cleaner spray and a microfiber cloth
Clean something to burn off excess adrenaline. Photo credit: Pollina Zimmerman on Pexels

If you’re feeling especially anxious and can’t get outside to walk around or blow off steam, this gentle movement can help release the adrenaline buildup. What you’re doing here is focusing all that pent-up energy on a singular task.

The visual of something “pretty and clean” afterward may even make you feel a brief sense of accomplishment.

Grab some compressed air and a damp cloth to wipe down your laptop, find some old papers to throw away, file, or wipe off the desk. Do anything that gets you moving, temporarily distracted, and completely away from the screen!

10. Find Something Funny (but Be Careful with Social Media)

photo of woman looking at smartphone and laughing while sitting at her desk at work
Find something funny, but be careful with social media feeds that only encourage comparison.
Photo credit: Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Laughing has been proven to release stress and give us a bit of energy, but it can be really tough to do this when you’re having the worst day.

There is a ton of entertainment on social media that you can tune into that will make you laugh, but if your feed is full of topics that introduce those dreaded feelings of comparison, you may want to avoid those.

You can find Youtube videos or perform specific searches on Instagram or Tiktok to tune into.

One of my favorite pages on Instagram is @Dadsaysjokes; these are very (mostly) PG corny jokes that seem to be never-ending. And cats galore. You just can’t beat goofy cats.

photo of a brown tabby cat lying on his back on a printed rug
When all else fails at work, just go look at cats. Photo credit: Dids on Pexels

Ready to test these pick-me-ups out? Are you happy and energized now?

I thought so! Let me know what you think in the comments!

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