Finding time to de-stress is not always easy. But the more we learn about the effects of long term chronic stress, the more important it becomes to find little ways to unwind throughout the day. Do a quick Google search, and most of the “stress relief guides” will tell you to do things like “Be Grateful!” or “Meet a New Friend!” but the reality is that sometimes we don’t have time or energy to talk to someone new, we need a quick fix in order to continue to function through the day. You can feel a stress-induced chocolate and junk binge coming on, and being grateful just isn’t going to cut it.  

Each of the activities listed below can easily be done at your desk or at home, with little to no preparation, in under five minutes. Try one or all when you need a little mini break during your day and you’d be surprised how far just a little bit can go.

1. Stretch  

It’s not news that most of us should be stretching more. Stress, exercise, sitting, and basically every activity we enjoy on a daily basis tightens us up. Stretching to the rescue! When you don’t have time to hit up a full yoga class, or you just need a quick pick me up during your long hours at work, try this simple stretch to get you started.

Take a deep breath in and reach your arms up overhead. Bend your right elbow and place your palm on your upper back, just under your neck. Place your left hand on your right elbow, take a deep exhale and gently but firmly press down into your right elbow and let your fingers slide a little further down your back. Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths before changing to the other side. Notice a difference? Stretching is powerful!

2. Drink Something Warm

Water is good for us for so many reasons, but believe it or not, a lot of us are actually drinking it in a way that can stress us out even more! Cold icy water may taste incredible, especially on a hot day, but it can cause the muscles in our stomach to contract and even cause digestive issues. Warm (not hot) water will help to increase blood circulation, which will give you an instant pick me up as well as protect your internal organs from damage. Bonus: Squeeze some lemon juice or add a couple drops of peppermint oil to add some stimulating aromatherapy to your drink and take it to the next level.

3. Breathe Deeply

This isn’t just some hippie dippie nonsense. The truth is that most of us are not breathing deeply enough day to day, and high amounts of stress can make that habit even worse. Deep breathing is simple, free, and you can utilize its powerful effects in an instant. To slow down your heart rate, and help to boost your immune system, try a few rounds of this meditative breathing technique called Sama Vritti Pranayama - which just means “same,” or “equal part” breath.

On your next inhale, in your head count slowly all the way up to five. Try to extend your breath for exactly that amount of time, and then as you exhale do the same thing. “1...2...3...4...5…”

Five seconds may feel like too long to extend your breathing, and it might even be too short! The number itself is arbitrary, but pick a set amount of time and try to get your inhales and exhales to extend and match. You’ll notice a difference after just 10 rounds of breath, but you can even keep it up for a few minutes to make it even more potent. Close your eyes if you are able to and help your relaxation go even deeper.

4. Laugh

This one may seem crazy - but trust me, it works. We get serious amounts of stress relief from laughter. Laughter can stimulate circulation, ease muscle tension, and it releases endorphins in your brain. Nothing seems funny at the moment? Not a problem. Your body can’t tell the difference between a forced laugh and a genuine one. Sit yourself down, and if you trust your friends, coworkers, or partner to not think you are absolutely nuts, get them to sit across from you and make the exercise even better.
Set a timer for one minute, and for those sixty seconds, all you have to do is laugh. Literally, force laughter out of your mouth. It doesn’t matter how fake it sounds, or how hard it is. Let it out, LOUD. No matter what, don’t stop laughing for the entire sixty seconds. It may even turn to “real” laughter along the way, especially if you’ve got someone else laughing with you.

After your sixty seconds are up, close your eyes for a moment and notice how you feel. See? It feels like magic, and you can make it happen anytime.

5. Release

Often when we are under high amounts of stress our bodies naturally tighten up as a defense mechanism. This was helpful when we needed to utilize our fight or flight response to get away from a mountain lion… but we can exactly fight our boss without consequences and it’s usually frowned upon to run away from your screaming children. So instead, we can use the tools of mindfulness to manually let go of the tension our bodies have created.

Start by noticing your hands. Focus all your attention on your palms. They may feel a little tense, or possibly be unconsciously balled into fists. Spend a moment on your palms, your fingers, and your wrists, trying to relax right there as much as you can. Are your hands busy? Try instead with your shoulders, or any other body part you tend to hold tension in. After just a few moments you may notice the feeling of a huge weight that has just been lifted, and a little more space to breathe.

Do what you can manage, right now. It’s important to set goals towards working out more, joining a studio or gym to maintain a schedule, eating healthier, sleeping more, but if all we do is set major goals it’s easy to lose sight of the little things we can do in this moment. You don’t have to wait to be fitter, more flexible, or more peaceful to find moments of greater health and happiness instantly. Do what you can, and those little things will add up to big change.