Self-care doesn’t require hours of free time. In fact, just 10 minutes or less can help to boost your well-being. Below, experts share their tips for lifting your mood, minimizing anxiety and even enhancing your relationships.
1. “Act your shoe size, not your age.”
This according to Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and author of Living with Depression. In other words, play for the sake of playing. “Find your funny bone, lose yourself in imaginative moments [or] get your air-guitar on — whatever it is, have some unstructured, unfettered fun,” she said.
Psychologist Elisha Goldstein also recently talked about the importance of play in this blog post and offered valuable tips on practicing play.
2. Play with your kids.
Spending just 10 minutes with your kids can go a long way. Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, psychotherapist and author of the forthcoming book Finding Love Again: Six Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, suggested playing a card game or a board game with your kids or helping them paint or color a picture.
3. Get personal with your partner.
If you’re in a long-term relationship, spend 10 minutes talking to your partner, Orbuch said. The goal is to get to know your partner, whether you’re chatting about silly or serious things. For instance, Orbuch suggested asking: What was the craziest thing you ever did as a kid? If you could do anything, what would you do? What famous person would you like to meet and why?
4. Engage in vigorous exercise.
Engage in vigorous activities that you enjoy, such as riding your bike, running, walking, hula hooping or dancing. And if you have the time, make it 20 minutes — or do two 10-minute activities throughout the day. “Sustained fast movement for about 20 minutes has the same impact on your brain as an antidepressant,” said Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, author of The Emotional Toolkit.
In fact, as you probably know, exercise boosts mood and minimizes anxiety. In one study, researchers assigned people with major depressive disorder to one of three groups for four months: aerobic exercise, antidepressant therapy or a combination of exercise and medication. After four months, all groups improved. However, after 10 months, the exercise group had lower relapse rates than the medication group.
According to Mininni, research also has found that walking dramatically improves mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
5. Engage in soothing exercise.
Practices such as yoga and tai chi also serve as mood boosters and anxiety relievers. When you’re really worried or anxious, Mininni said, your muscles get tense and contract. Activities that stretch your muscles help to counteract this tension.
Mininni interviewed many yoga instructors for The Emotional Toolkit, and they said that the best poses to reduce depression and anxiety are sun salutations.
Older people or anyone recovering from an illness can try chair yoga. Mininni suggested starting out with simple stretches on the chair, such as putting your hands over your head, then behind your back, and touching your toes.
6. Pay it forward.
According to Serani, “Research shows that tiny acts of kindness ripple exponentially across social experiences, essentially sparking a contagiousness of generosity and cooperativeness.”
This 2010 study found that kindness is contagious. When participants gave money in a “public goods game,” recipients were more likely to pay it forward by giving their money away in subsequent games.
7. Call a friend.
Most of us feel much better after talking our hearts out with a friend. Talking to someone who’s kind and caring actually activates the calming parasympathetic nervous system, Mininni said.
When stress strikes, women, in particular, tend to seek support. Socializing and connecting with loved ones increases levels of oxytocin, which is associated with attachment and caregiving and creates a sense of calm. Estrogen actually amplifies oxytocin production.
Psychologist Shelley Taylor at UCLA and her colleagues have found evidence that in times of stress, women typically “tend-and-befriend.” In other words, women naturally deal with stress by caring for others and nurturing their connections.
This response may date back to prehistoric times when men went out to hunt, leaving women vulnerable to other gangs and animal predators, Mininni said. Huddling together was the only way to stay safe. So women may be hardwired to feel safe and soothed when connecting with other women, she said.
8. Take a break.
It’s not fancy, but surprisingly, it works.
A 10-minute break can relax you and help you feel refreshed. “Be it a catnap, a timeout from the daily work grind, or a solitary moment alone, make sure to unplug from the high-octane demands of your day,” Serani said.
9. Write a letter to your ex, if you’ve recently ended a relationship.
When composing your letter, be honest about your feelings, Orbuch said. But don’t send the letter. “This letter is for you to defuse your emotions so you can feel better and put the past behind you,” she said.
(If you’re holding on to certain emotions with another relationship, write a letter to that person, too. It also might help to consider how you’re going to remedy or cope with the situation.)
10. “Throw a curve into your routine.”
In other words, do something that you wouldn’t normally do, such as taking a different route from work, trying a new spot for lunch, shopping at a different supermarket or joining a pickup basketball game instead of running on the treadmill, notes Serani.
“A new experience will heighten your senses and give you a new story to tell.”