We’ve all been there: trapped in a meeting with no way to escape, another hour to go, and escalating levels of stress hormones threatening to culminate in a full-fledged panic attack. The feelings of mounting anxiety can be particularly crushing in a claustrophobic setting like a conference room, especially when you have to appear cool, collected, and professional.
Although there are overt ways to de-stress during the workday, many of these methods—like a downward dog or guided meditation—are impossible in the context of a business meeting. Sitting through meetings can be one of the most stressful aspects of a job, so it’s important to know how to stay calm and curb anxiety, even when surrounded by colleagues. Here are some simple, covert tactics for taming stress—no yoga mat required.
1. Use a Lavender-Scented Moisturizer
Rub a fragrant lavender lotion on your hands before or during meetings, and breathe in deeply. Several small studies have demonstrated the scent’s ability to significantly decrease stress levels.
2. Trace and Breathe
This simple breathing technique can be done under the desk: Trace up the length of your right index finger with your right thumb while inhaling for five counts. Trace down the other side while exhaling for five counts. Repeat on each finger and then make your way back to your index finger.
3. The 4-7-8 Method
Another easy breathing technique involves inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for seven, and then exhaling for eight counts. If that seems difficult, try shorter intervals like 3-3-6. The goal is to extend your exhale so that it’s twice as long as your inhale. This kind of deep, diaphragmatic breathing can calm the nervous system and curb anxiety. “Beyond counting inhales and exhales, I recommend just slowing down the breath,” says One Medical Group’s Christine Celio, PhD. “I encourage people to do four slow counts in and four counts out. It’s like a massage for your nervous system.”
4. Sip Chamomile Tea
Brew a big mug of chamomile tea before your meeting and bring it with you to the conference table. Chamomile has traditionally been used to treat anxiety and insomnia and promote relaxation. Although there’s little clinical evidence to support the claims, a small randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found a significant reduction in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) symptoms in participants who were given chamomile versus a placebo.
5. Trade Coffee for Any Herbal Tea
If chamomile isn’t your cup of tea, you can still reap the soothing benefits of an herbal brew by substituting it for your regular cup of coffee. “Reduce your caffeine intake overall if you are anticipating feeling anxious,” Celio says. Try an herbal tea like peppermint or ginger.
6. Visualize a Calm Place
It may not be possible to tune into a guided visualization during a meeting, but sitting in front of a picturesque scene can soothe nerves. Set your desktop image to a beautiful scenic landscape and glance at it any time you feel tense. If outdoor scenery’s not your thing, try a family photo. A small study found that looking at pictures of others being loved or cared for muted the brain’s threat response.
7. Sit Up Straight
“Examine your posture,” Celio says. “When people are stressed, they slump, which compacts the spine and lungs, making it hard to breathe. Sit with vertebrae on top of vertebrae, as they say in yoga, so you can open your chest and breathe easier.”
8. Intensify Your Focus
Even though anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate, focusing intensely on all aspects of the meeting at hand can profoundly reduce stress by taking the focus off the internal feelings of stress. Bring all of your attention to the speaker or presentation—this will bring you out of yourself and into the “zone.” “For some people, taking copious notes allows them to be more engaged and less stressed,” Celio says. “If you can handwrite your notes, all the better. It will allow you to focus on something besides a screen.”
9. Find an Excuse for a Break
Take breaks between meetings. If you have back-to-back meetings, take a break to go to the bathroom, walk around, or go outside. According to Celio, getting some space and air, and a little exercise if you’re able, can help alleviate anxiety just as well as anything else.