No matter how busy you are, you can find five minutes or fewer in your day to take better care of yourself. Here are five expert tips on relaxing your body, soothing anxiety and coping with stressful thoughts.
1. Practice 3-3-6 breathing. According to Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, author of The Emotional Toolkit, this type of breathing provides more oxygen to the brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. That slows down breathing and heart rate, relaxes the muscles and causes blood vessels to dilate, improving blood flow. It essentially sends a message to your brain that everything is OK, and there’s no reason to fight or flee, Mininni said.
You can practice this breathing technique any time, anywhere, whether you’re waiting in line, stuck in traffic or sitting at your desk.
All you do is breathe in through your nose for three seconds, hold for three seconds and exhale for six seconds. As Mininni said, there’s nothing magical about these numbers, so you can do 1-1-2 or 4-4-8. What’s important is that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation, she said.
- Pit Stop: Take five minutes for an emotional and physical pit stop.
- Empty your mind from cluttering thoughts and pressing emotions by imagining a splendid, tranquil scene.
- Accentuate breathing from your diaphragm and focus on relaxing your body.
- Calm your senses by closing your eyes, silencing whatever noise you can around you and finding stillness.
- Embrace the experience, linger in it and when you’re ready, merge back into the lane of life.
3. Use distraction. If you’re already having troublesome thoughts, trying to stop them is about as easy as not thinking of a pink elephant. (See!) In fact, studies show that stopping a thought is very stressful, Mininni said.
It’s much easier to divert our attention and put ourselves in another scenario, she said. For instance, you might distract yourself by watching TV, seeing a comedy or playing the piano.
Distraction works because it puts you in a different – and more pleasant — mindset, she said. Mininni compared this to when her daughter was two. Instead of telling her daughter “no” when she wanted to touch a certain object, Mininni distracted her with a toy.
4. Give your partner a long hug. “Studies show that 20-second hugs raise oxytocin levels, which release feel-good chemicals in your body,” according to Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, psychotherapist and author of the forthcoming book Finding Love Again: Six Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
5. Meditate. Meditating every day or most days not only calms you in the moment, but it also prevents stress from hitting you so hard, Mininni said. She likens meditating to lifting weights. Lifting weights regularly strengthens your body and makes picking up heavy things a lot easier. In other words, when stress strikes, thanks to meditating, it won’t bother you as much.
There’s even preliminary evidence that long-term meditation literally strengthens the brain.
To meditate, simply sit in a quiet and comfortable position, close your eyes and focus on your breath, Mininni said. Whenever your mind wanders, just come back to your breath without judgment.