The advice for managing stress centres on ideas such as get enough rest, eat well, exercise, and take time just for you. But if you read that sort of stuff and think ‘Who has time for that?!’ then this article is for you. Here are five ways you can lower your stress levels in sixty seconds - or less. That’s right, these are activities you can squeeze into an already overloaded schedule to give yourself a mini break, for those times when you just can’t stop.
Stressed, hurrying people are not smiley people. But making yourself smile actually tricks your brain into feeling a bit happier. Try it now! Smiling while you work takes no extra time at all. As an added benefit, many people clench their jaw when they’re stressed and smiling gives your body a break from that too.
Move – fast!
When we’re stressed, our body releases adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones are designed to help us move – fast. It’s thought we do so because long ago, our threats were mostly physical and we needed to either run or defend ourselves (known as ‘fight or flight’ response). Nowadays, our threatening situations arise more from mental stress. So our body produces these chemicals, preparing for physical exertion, and then there is none. Over time, your body will eliminate the excess hormones, but it leaves you feeling tense until it does. Help your body out by doing a short burst of physical exercise – drop and do twenty push-ups, or run on the spot (knees up around your bellybutton people, no jogging!) for a minute. This will use up some of those chemicals and help you to feel less stressed.
Too busy for lunch? Not stopping to refuel is actually costing you more time in the long run. Hunger leads to physical and mental fatigue, which slows you down – as well as making you a poorer decision maker (read more about decision fatigue here). Choose foods you can eat one handed, that fit in a pocket/ handbag/desk drawer, and that ideally, have a balance of carbohydrates and protein. My top tips: muesli bars (adapted/ purchased to fit your current dietary requirements) or trail mix.
Not hungry? Eat anyway. Stress shuts down your body’s hunger signals so you won’t necessarily feel hungry when it’s time to eat. Remember, your body equates stress with preparing to fight or run. Eating is not a priority at that time and so your body dampens hunger signals. Eating will help tell your physical body that you are not under threat and it does not need to keep releasing stress hormones as though you are.
One long breath
Slowing your breathing works similarly to eating – it is a signal to your body that everything is okay and it can stop releasing those stress hormones. You can reset your breathing quickly by taking the time to do just one long breath in (as long as you can stand) and then slowly letting it out. Just this one breath will change your breathing rate for a while afterwards. Repeat whenever you get a chance – waiting on hold, waiting for a video clip to load, in the bathroom, at a red light.
Put it Back
When we’re stressed, neatness and order are the first things to go – who has time to tidy up? But putting things back where we got them from helps us to de-stress in a couple of important ways. Firstly, it means you don’t lose things as often. Not knowing where your keys are as you try to rush out the door instantly creates extra stress and pressure. If you always put them in the same place, you can avoid the added stress and time cost of having to look for them. For essentials like keys, designate a certain spot that’s out of other people’s way/ reach, and ALWAYS leave them there – no matter how you’re feeling. It will soon become automatic, and when you’re too tired and too busy, you’ll still put them there, and won’t lose them.
The other reason to do this is it creates a sense of order amongst the chaos. The more things you put back, the less mess and clutter there is. Looking at mess and clutter creates stress as tidying up becomes another thing we add to our mental to-do list. If you can keep clear just one, or a few places – e.g. your coffee table, the right side of your desk, one room in the house or the inside of your car, you will create a sense of calm whenever you look at/ enter that space – a visual break from all the to-do’s.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.