“I just don’t have time to fit in activities for stress relief.” I hear this so often when I’m talking to women about stress and the toll it takes on their body. These women are working so hard, taking care of everyone except themselves. Sound familiar?
I know that it’s tough to think about one more thing when your head is already so full of work deadlines, transporting children, errands to be done, and caregiving tasks. But honestly, if you don’t stop and think about it, you might very well find yourself in a state of total collapse. And then, nothing will get done.
It’s spring here in Maine, and we’re all ready to get out of the house more. But the weather is unpredictable – sunny one minute, freezing cold and grey the next. So spending a lot of time outdoors is still tricky. This time of year can lead to a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction as we wait for brighter days to come.
What better time to pause and find some easy ways to relax, take a bit of time, and really connect with your inner self?
A few years ago, I read a book called Five Good Minutes. The premise really stuck with me: you must take five good minutes every day to be present and connect with your life as it is right now instead of dwelling on the past or living in a future possibility.
Ideally, this five minute practice will become longer and longer until you have a good chunk of time to celebrate your life, let go of stress and tension, and calm your nervous system. The health benefits of stress reduction are huge and well documented (I have lots of articles about this in my health library). But for now, if five minutes is all you have, it’s certainly better than nothing at all.
Stress Relief in 5 Minutes or Less
There are many ways to relieve stress – and some of them can be completed in mere minutes. Sometimes, you can even incorporate them into things you already have to do!
Breathe. One of the best ways to calm your nervous system down is to take deep breaths. I love 7-7-7 breathing (inhale for the count of seven, hold for seven, exhale for seven), but there are plenty of other options. The best part about deep breathing is you can do it anywhere. Waiting in line at the supermarket? Breathe. Stopped at a red light? Breathe. On hold with a doctor’s office? You guessed it…breathe!
Meditate. Meditation is a way to help you clear your mind and release racing thoughts. You can do this indoors or outside, with quiet music, nature sounds, or a guided meditation. Even two or three minutes of focus on simply noticing and letting go of thoughts can make a big difference!
Eat well – Eating regularly is something you should be doing anyway, so there’s no need to squeeze extra time in for this. If you’ve been existing solely on packaged foods or fast food, you may need to plan ahead a little more. But a little prep time on the weekend can give you the time you would have sat in line at the drive-through back – so you can savor your delicious, healthy choices instead of eating as you drive.
Be a mountain. Here’s a great technique adapted from that book, Five Good Minutes, by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine. It’s great for times you are feeling really unfocused or extra scattered. This exercise helps you reconnect with the earth and your inner strength, bringing you deeply into the present moment.
- Stand or sit comfortably and breathe mindfully for about a minute. Set an intention – maybe finding inner strength through the practice. Imagine a beautiful mountain. As you visualize, let your body become the mountain, feeling a sense of steadiness, strength, and majesty. Rest in your “mountain body” for a few minutes. Open your eyes, and gently move into an upright, relaxed position.
Squeeze and Release. Find a comfortable position either sitting, lying down, or standing. Slowly squeeze each muscle group then release, starting with your feet and moving up to your face. Don’t forget to breathe!
Take a 5-minute walk. When stress begins to overwhelm you, get up and move! Even a quick walk up and down a set of stairs will help you relax and feel more energized. Focus on counting steps as you go, or repeat a mantra to yourself as you move, to help disrupt worry and bring you back to the present.
Research has shown time and again that even short spurts of quiet meditation and reflection can decrease stress and improve mood. In a day filled with tasks you are doing for others, it’s critical to take even just a few minutes for yourself! The long term benefits will improve your health and relationships, allowing you to truly enjoy life!
Lane, JD, et al. 2007. Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood. Altern Ther Health Med, 13(1), 38-44. URL: “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Lane JD%2C et al. Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2007%3B13%3A38”.
Brantley, J and W. Millstine. 2005. Five Good Minutes, 84. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD