10 Easy Brain Hacks To Keep You Sane At The Office

There’s a good chance you’re reading this at your desk right now. Why would you do such a thing, when there's work to be done?

Because, like many people, you hate your job and lack the all-in attitude to pull a Fight Club and blackmail your boss. Which is probably for the best.

When you’re stuck in a cubicle that’s starting to seem like a coffin, your depressed mood drains you of mental energy, puts you behind in work, and stresses you out—creating a cycle that guarantees the liquor store will be your first stop when the workday ends. But even when you’re stuck in the office, there are ways to boost your brainpower and your mood without even getting out of your chair. And no, they don’t involve concealing a flask, though that probably works, too.

Check out these tricks to stave off the insanity.

1. Bite down on a pencil

Got a pencil or pen at your desk? Good. Turns out that might be all you need to start feeling a little better, even if it's going to involve making your coworkers think you've lost your mind.

Researchers conducted a study in which participants watched a cartoon and rated how funny they thought it was. Some were made to hold a pencil between their teeth, some were not, and all were confused (probably). 

Those asked to bite down on the pencil all rated the cartoon much funnier than those in the other group. By holding the pencil in their mouths, their facial muscles conformed to the shape of a genuine smile. In essence, the findings indicated that simply putting on a happy face is enough to make you actually feel happier. Most of us can't fake a real smile though, thus the need for the pencil.

We said this would be easy. We didn't say it would make you look cool. 

2. Chew some gum

Got a major project to work on, but feeling like you've got all the brainpower of a college freshman at a Monday 8 a.m. class? Science has your back. As it turns out, chewing gum right before a test or task gets blood flowing to the brain, giving you the mental boost you need to tackle those spreadsheet nightmares. The effect can improve alertness, assist in immediate memory, and even reduce anxiety.

There you go, gum guys. Got your new ad campaign right there. "Chew your way to excellence." By the way, here's the Clerks clip you're probably about to Google.

3. Try a meditation app

Meditation is pretty powerful. It's been known to reduce stress, improve concentration, and fix Don Draper. If it works for him, it can probably do you a lot of good, too.

And no, you don't need to give away your possessions, move to a mountaintop, and spend years training with a monk like some kind of pacifist Batman in order to get the benefits of this practice. All together now: there's an app for that. Several, actually.

4. Sit like a boss

With overbearing supervisors, unhappy clients, and that inevitable caffeine crash, you're probably too distracted at your desk to put much effort into your posture. 

Well, sorry to turn into your mother, but we're gonna have to encourage you to work on that. Posture is important, for reasons you may not realize. Scientists have discovered that if you take on an "alpha" style of body language, with chest out and body exposed, your levels of testosterone will rise in as little as two minutes, resulting in a more confident mood. On top of that, cortisol, the stress hormone, drops.

And you get to fantasize about being some sort of corporate badass, which is fun.

5. Snack

It's no secret that you need to eat in order to operate at peak performance. Unless you're Christian Bale auditioning for a movie role, your job pretty much requires you to maintain a healthy intake of calories.

But what you eat is more important than you may realize. Specifically, making sure you're taking in enough glucose is key to making sure you can successfully navigate the decisions that go into your workday. 

Research has shown that, over the course of a day, we fall into what is called "decision fatigue." The cab or the subway? Catching up on emails or finishing that report? Rewatching Breaking Bad or finally getting to The Wire? (Answer: yes.)

Early in the day, you can make choices pretty easily, but as glucose levels drop, so does your ability to decide. By snacking on foods high in glucose, you can restore that ability. 

6. Exercise at your desk

Everyone knows that working out reduces stress. But until your job approves those weekly dodgeball breaks you've been suggesting, there's not much you can do to get your blood pumping while slumped at your desk, right?

Not quite. Sorry to rob you of the last excuse you had for not exercising, but there are a bunch of good stretching and body weight moves you can do without stepping away from the cubicle. For the more tech-savvy, there's equipment like the Cubii, a mini-elliptical that you can stash under your desk. But the embarrassment of being that employee might cancel out the benefits.

7. Remember to breathe

Ever feel so overwhelmed you think you might forget to breathe? Dude! Don't! Breathing is so important!

Specifically, abdominal breathing. Most of us, thanks to poor posture, natural stress responses, and simply being a bunch of dumbasses (we guess), don't breathe correctly, breathing into our chest when we should be focused on the abdomen. By consciously practicing slow abdominal breathing for about a half an hour a day, you can trigger your body's natural relaxation response. Until someone passes a Weed in the Workplace bill, it's the best method of inhaling your way to a happier desk job.

8. Listen to tunes

These days, most offices are cool with letting employees listen to their own music when they're focused on individual tasks. But sticking headphones in your ears and blasting your favorite "Let's Just Get Through the Day" playlist has benefits beyond giving you an excuse to ignore your boss for a few extra seconds.

Research on music's mental health benefits shows that it eases depression in elderly patients, reduces the severity of chronic pain, and prevents burnout in nurses. Odds are good it can help you out, too. 

9. Sniff some peppermint

It pains us to admit this, but there just might be something to those aromatherapy claims that your hippie friend keeps making. Studies show that sniffing essential oils from peppermint can not only improve memory on an objective, measurable level, but also provides you with a greater sense of mental alertness, enhancing your overall mood.

For moments when you need a natural brain boost, stash some peppermint in your pockets. Or keep a plant right there on your desk and see how long it takes before someone gets confused and complains to HR about the pot farm you're trying to start in Accounting.

10. Open your eyes wider

Lots of jobs require coming up with creative solutions to problems, and if you want to not only get through your shift, but also impress the boss enough to maybe get a promotion, it helps to show that you can think outside the box. So, unless you're taking the pill from Limitless, there aren't many ways to hack your brain to creativity, right?

Actually, it can be as simple as opening your eyes wide. We're talking creepy serial killer wide. A study in which participants were tasked with coming up with creative uses for a brick showed that the group that was asked to open its eyes wide for a period of time before the process, came up with a greater variety of interesting uses. The science? It has to do with the "scope of perceptual attention." Broad visual focus makes you more alert and creative, while narrow focus limits these qualities.

Give it a shot. Just don't terrify your coworkers.

Joe Oliveto wants to try all 10 of these at once and see if he spontaneously becomes a genius. Follow him on Twitter.

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