office vacationIf you’re waiting for your yearly vacation to unwind, you’re waiting too long. It’s far more effective to recharge as you go, according to psychologist Suzanne Zoglio, author of Recharge in Minutes: The Quick-Lift Way to Less Stress, More Success, and Renewed Energy! (Tower Hill Press).

Using simple relaxation techniques, you can restore your focus, confidence and energy in less time than it takes to run out for that midmorning latte. The key is to capture the spirit of that yearly vacation each and every day. “Stress is an everyday occurrence. You have to manage it or it manages you,” Zoglio says. “The best way to recharge is in short bursts every few hours, every day. That way, your body has time to re-center itself. If you were to take ten to twenty breaks every day you’d never become overstressed.”

Take time to manage your stress, unwinding and refueling as you go, and you reduce your risk of stress-related medical problems. David D. Clarke, clinical assistant professor of medicine with Oregon Health Sciences University and author of They Can’t Find Anything Wrong! 7 Keys to Understanding, Treating, and Healing Stress Illness (Sentient Publications), says, “Stress that is strong enough or goes on for too long is capable of causing physical symptoms that can be just as severe as those of any disease.”

We generally associate things like high blood pressure, acid reflux, peptic ulcers and a rapid pulse with high levels of stress, but stress can manifest itself in myriad ways and affect virtually any part of the body, Clarke says. Changes in your eating habits, sleep schedule or energy level can all be signs that you’re overstressed. Headaches, muscle stiffness, difficulty breathing and pain in the chest, abdomen, pelvis or back are also common. Other physical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation, as well as dizziness, ringing in the ears, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, changes in the voice, a lump in the throat and itching skin.

If left unchecked, chronic uninterrupted stress can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and even the common cold, according to Zoglio. That’s why quick, routine breaks that help you unwind and refocus are so important. “While the stress response — increased heart rate, shallow breathing, production of stress hormones, etc. — is an automatic response, we can reverse that response and any negative effects by taking quick refueling breaks regularly and at the first onset of stress,” Zoglio says.

Spend just 10 minutes a day “playing,” and by the end of the year you will have “vacationed” a total of 61 hours, more than a full workweek. Zoglio’s “play” suggestions include:

Review all of your accomplishments for the day, or make a list of five things you’re grateful for. It’s a sure-fire mood booster;

Find a quiet spot for 10 minutes of shut-eye. Practice deep breathing and let your mind go blank. Even if you don’t fall asleep, you’ll still feel refreshed and refocused;

Treat yourself and don’t settle for any substitutes. If expensive Belgian chocolate is what you crave, give yourself permission to splurge this one time;

Read one chapter of a beach novel, peruse the newspaper as if you have nowhere to go, or take your time and finish the entire crossword puzzle;

Take time to chat with a stranger at your local coffeehouse, take the scenic route to work, or swap your morning coffee for hot chocolate or tea. If you normally brown-bag your lunch, go out to eat instead. Anything new and novel is bound to relieve tension;

Surprise someone with their favorite treat. Pick up a latte for a co-worker on lunch break, or whip up a batch of those killer brownies your friend loves so much. Giving can be just as invigorating as receiving.