In the rush of everyday life it’s easy to go from dawn to dusk without pausing for a moment, caught up in the constant pressure to achieve more, do it faster and perform better. But stress triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies, releasing chemicals such as cortisol, and increasing our heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
Long-term stress can have a devastating effect on our physical and mental health. Studies have uncovered links to problems such as poor sleep, heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Stress can also affect us mentally, leading to memory and concentration problems and depression.
One solution is to de-stress for a few moments regularly throughout the day. Just a couple of minutes (or, if you’re desperate, even just 30 seconds!), can make all the difference to your stress levels.
With that in mind here are ten quick de-stress techniques:
1. Deep breathing
Deep breathing reduces your heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, first expanding your diaphragm and then your chest. Exhale slowly and evenly, emptying your lungs fully.
2. Listen to a relaxing music track
Create a playlist of relaxing tracks on your phone so you can always play something when you have a couple of spare minutes. Sit completely still while the track is playing, listening with attention and relaxing your muscles completely.
3. Focused listening
Close your eyes, relax your body, and begin listening to the sounds around you. Some will be obvious, such as someone talking or the sound of traffic moving. But in time you will hear quieter sounds like a bird singing, the hum of a refrigerator, the ticking of a clock. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back gently – the more you practice, the better you’ll be able to concentrate.
4. Stand by an open window
It’s surprising how stale the air in on office or home can become, especially if you’re using air-conditioning. Treat your body to a few lungfuls of fresh air by standing next to an open window and breathing deeply. The added oxygen will refresh and invigorate you and the change of view will give your brain a break, making you more alert.
5. Enjoy a flower
Fresh flowers bring the outdoors inside, so keep a vase of flowers on your desk or cabinet. For a swift de-stress session, spend a few minutes looking at one in detail. Imagine your eye is a microscope and look carefully at the color, the arrangement of the petals, and other details. Touch it gently and see how it feels – velvety, prickly or rough – then inhale and enjoy the scent.
6. Make a virtual escape
We’ve all enjoyed that wonderful sensation of relaxing on a beach or in the forest. Close your eyes and imagine you are in your favorite spot. Picture the golden sand and blue sea, or the dappled sunlight peeping through the leaves. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, smell the fresh pine needles, and hear the crashing waves or rustle of the leaves in the breeze.
7. Light a scented candle
Breathing in the delicious scent of a candle is wonderfully relaxing. Keep a few candles handy so you can enjoy a few moments of down-time quickly. Choose a fragrance such as lavender or vanilla and take a couple of minutes to breathe in the gentle aroma.
8. Stretch and relax
Muscles can quickly become tight and cramped, especially if you’re hunched over a desk all day. Sit upright in your chair and place your hands on your lap or stomach. Notice where you feel tension in your body – it’s common to carry tension in your neck and shoulders, but you could feel it anywhere. Consciously tighten those muscles for a few seconds and then relax them deeply. Do this five times, then repeat for another area if you have time.
9. Savor the flavor
Indulge in a healthy snack such as a piece of fresh fruit. Look at it before you start and appreciate the unique shape and color. Eat it very slowly, focusing on the taste, the texture on your tongue, and the sound it makes as you bite and chew.
10. Think of someone you love
Focusing on a loved one will take your mind out of your present circumstances. Imagine what they look like, how it feels to hug them, the little quirks that make them so lovable. Relive happy moment such as a quiet stroll by the lake or a tickling match with your toddler. Hear their laughter and see their smile.