Career, family, relationships, commutes, bills, health, the news — it’s easy in our “always-on” culture and busy lives to feel the effects of stress. But unchecked stress can easily become unmanageable and impact your physical, mental, and emotional health.
We’ve put together some easy, five-minute stress-reduction techniques that you can implement right away — no special equipment required.
Why Stress Reduction Is Important
Small, day-to-day stressors may seem like an inevitable part of your life. But small stressors like commutes, financial worries, job duties, school work, and more can add up and cause serious damage.
When your body is stressed, your brain responds by increasing production of neurotransmitters — like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine — which, in turn, trigger the production of stress-related hormones like adrenaline. Over time, this steady stream of stress hormones in your body can result in high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, rapid heart rate, and more. Stress is hard on your digestive system, causes you to tense your muscles, impacts the quality of your sleep, and increases rates of depression and anxiety.
Taking time to actively reduce your stress levels has a ripple effect across your whole life. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more resilient.
Quick Stress-Reduction Techniques
When you’re sitting in traffic, researching material for a paper, or preparing for a presentation at work, you may feel the effects of stress creeping in. Long-term fixes like more sleep, more exercise, and a better diet are effective, but it’s just as important to identify the source of your stress and work to reduce it right in the moment.
Once you identify the source of your stress, remind yourself that you have control over your response to it. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Notice your jaw, your muscles, and your shoulders. Unclench your jaw, deliberately untense your shoulders, and try to relax your muscles.
There are dozens of in-the-moment stress-reduction techniques that take less than five minutes. Here are just a few:
- The Five Senses Exercise — this exercise engages your senses in a mindful way. Name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Three-Minute Breathing Space — this exercise takes just three minutes, as its name implies. The first step: answer the question, “how am I doing right now?” Consider your answer for one minute. In the second minute, focus on your breathing, making sure to take slow, cleansing breaths. In the third and final minute, bring awareness to the way these deep, cleansing breaths impact your whole body — from your lungs to your heart rate to the tension in your shoulders.
- Download an app like Calm or Headspace, and complete one of the five-minute meditation options.
- Light a candle, put on a favorite song, or sip some herbal tea — but make sure to put down your phone and disengage from technology.
- Move your body — Some people tend to freeze or tense up when stressed. If you’re one of those people, then movement may be an effective means of stress reduction. Take five minutes to dance to a favorite song. Stretch your arms overhead, and then try to touch your toes. Roll your head in circles if you’re stuck in traffic or at your desk. Run in place for a moment. Whatever gets your body moving will work.
Managing Stress Long-Term
While the techniques described above are effective for reducing stress in the short-term, it’s important to evaluate areas of your life that are causing you considerable stress — whether it’s your career, childcare duties, commute, degree program, relationship, etc. — and make a plan for reducing your stress levels long-term. Degree programs have final end-points, so stress caused by additional work, classes, and papers is relatively short-term. But if you’re in a job or relationship that’s causing stress and mental fatigue that impacts your life, taking a step back and evaluating ways to change your circumstances will benefit you considerably more than short-term fixes will.
Consider speaking with a career counselor to find opportunities that may be better suited for your skill set — a new job in the same field may have better work-life balance, a shorter commute, better benefits, or a more inspiring environment. And if you feel that your stress levels have become completely unmanageable or overwhelming, or you’re struggling with feelings of depression as a result, then don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.
Your mental health is of the utmost importance, and stress reduction techniques can make a big difference. With the techniques listed, and a clear understanding of your stressors, you’ll find that your stress levels decrease and your ability to cope is improved.