You might think that to truly reduce the stress in your life, you’ll have to schedule a week-long getaway to Bora Bora (that would be nice, wouldn’t it?). In reality, if you have just a few minutes to break from your busy schedule, you can feel more mentally and physically prepared to handle whatever is on your plate. Just in time for the holiday pressure cooker, we’ve asked a couple experts to give us the skinny on 10 ways to reduce holiday stress in 10 minutes or less.
Take a Nap
A lot of people don’t think 10 minutes of shut-eye will do much of anything for mind and body, but it will, says Dr. Abigail Chen, an internist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “This is science-backed,” she explains. “When your productivity slows, taking a quick nap can give you a huge bump in alertness. Resident doctors are often encouraged to take just short naps on the job to help keep clear heads.” So, try it. Set an alarm and unwind for a blink.
Command Your Breath
Mindfulness helps you stay in the present, instead of worrying about the future. “The simplest technique, and one that you always have at your command, is slowing down your breath,” says Diane Robinson, Ph.D, a neuropsychologist at UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health.
How do you do this? “Consciously paying attention to how you breathe, counting your breath in, holding it briefly at the top and bottom of the breath cycle, and then counting your breath out,” Robinson says. “Bringing your breath into a slower cycle signals to your body that you are in control and signals your brain to stop releasing the cascade of stress chemicals.”
If you’re working on a deadline and can’t seem to organize your thoughts, remove yourself from the stressful situation. It may be scary to take a break in crunch time, but Robinson says taking a quick walk can be very beneficial for two reasons. “First, giving yourself a little distance is an opportunity to reevaluate and gain some perspective on the source of your tension,” she says. “Second, the actual act of walking helps your body produce endorphins – your body’s feeling good chemical, and releases some of that physical tension building up in your muscles.” So, walk away – momentarily.
Soak in Sunshine
If you can actually step outside as you remove yourself from the stressful situation then all the better. “A few minutes of sunshine helps your body’s manufacture vitamin D, which is a natural stress buster as it regulates serotonin,” Robinson says. “If there is some nature on that walk, like a beautiful flower or a lovely view, research has also shown there is a calming effect.” Find a scenic sanctuary a short distance from your home or office, and you’re golden.
Take a Mental Trip with Music
Let’s say you can’t leave your desk. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a view. “You have the power of your mind at your disposal,” Robinson says. “Using your mind to take you to a beautiful place in your imagination, or listening to a technique called guided imagery can have the same positive effective.”
Other ways to take a mental vacation are listening to a favorite, soothing song — maybe one that conjures up happy memories, which Robinson says will have a positive, soothing effect on your mood. “Singing along can increase this response for some people,” she says.
Choose Vitamin C
It’s tempting to reach for carbs when you’re stressed out, but science tells us this is a double-whammy for our health when we’re under the gun. Research shows our bodies actually metabolize slower when we’re stressed, so you’re more likely to gain weight if you indulge in high-fat, high-carb options during these times — and comfort foods don’t have the comforting effect you imagine either. “Foods high in vitamin C, like blueberries and oranges, have been shown to reduce some of the demands that stress puts on our system,” Robinson says. So, pack these healthier sweet treats in your work bag instead.
If you’re not much of a fruit person during the day, grabbing a protein-powered snack can also help increase your alertness and boost energy levels. “It will help you fight the feeling of sluggishness when you’re worn down,” Dr. Chen says. Try low-fat cheese, a serving of pumpkin seeds, or a hard-boiled egg.
Make a List
Visual organization is often soothing for some. If you feel like you have more to do than you’re mentally capable of tackling take a timeout and write each item down. “Give yourself the satisfaction of checking things off if that helps you.” Dr. Chen says. Seeing that list shrink is a great way to feel in control of your time.
Strike a Pose
You’ve heard about the amazing benefits of yoga by now, and you can do them quickly and effectively to give your body and mind a break. Try striking a child’s pose, downward dog — or do a quick flow to regain your wits. “Having your body do a little work is great because your mind ends up doing less work as a result,” Dr. Chen says. “Or beyond yoga, even stretching the head, neck and shoulders, where we carry a lot of our tension, will help you feel less stressed.” Just turn off your mind and move it, move it.
Think in Chunks, Not Wholes
“Often people feel stressed because they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place in life, where they think they can’t handle everything they have to do,” Dr. Chen says. So what’s the cure?
“I always recommend patients break their day into manageable chunks. Pick just one task you need to complete. If it’s bills, pay them. If it’s dishes, wash them.” Just do one small activity. You are not allowed to think of the next task until the present one is complete. You’ll probably get each item done faster (and better) if you’re not already thinking about cleaning the garage when you’re still picking the kids up from school.