Are you tired of waking up early, dropping off your kids at school, commuting to your job, dealing with pesky bosses or co-workers, just to come home and feel exhausted as you cook dinner and drag yourself to bed? If this is your daily routine and you love it, then don't bother reading this. But if this isn't cutting it for you, I can help you out of that cycle.
Believe it or not, our most valuable form of currency is time. If I told you that by investing 4 hours a day into your mental health, you would see major improvements, you'd probably tell me, “sure, but I don't have 4 hours a day to devote to that.” Neither do I. But I do have 10 minutes, and that's all I need.
I would be willing to bet that as you get ready for work (or school), you go on auto-pilot. From the minute you wake up until the minute you lock your car door, your procedural memory has kicked in. Somehow you've ended up at your destination without really feeling all-too-different from yesterday.
This is where mindfulness comes in. It seems like everyone is talking about it, doesn't it? I’ll tell you why — it works. Here's how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
As you're brushing your teeth, taking your morning shower, or eating breakfast, take a few extra minutes to slow down. Notice the minty taste of your toothpaste or the feeling of the hot water on your skin. What does your body wash smell like? How does the texture of your shampoo feel in your hair? See if you can notice the different flavors of your oatmeal or eggs and toast.
You may be thinking, How am I going to feel less stressed by smelling my soap? It’s not really about the soap. It's about grounding, which just means bringing you back to the present moment. It's about getting your mind off of your to-do list or the conversation you had with your boss last week.
It's about the here and now.
There are also a ton of YouTube videos or iOS/Android apps that you can download (for free) to help guide you through this if you have trouble focusing your thoughts.
Before you say, I don’t have time for me, I'm too busy, let me ask you this question: Are you happy with your routine as of right now? Chances are, if you're reading about ways to relieve stress quickly, you're not. I'll give you the cliché, “you have to make time for you” because it's true. You have to literally schedule it into your day.
Whether you're a morning person or you feel more productive in the evenings, set aside 10 minutes that you can rely on. Try to make it the same 10 minutes each day, or at least around the same general time frame so that it's easier to keep it in your routine. In this time, do something for you. This could be squeezing in some light yoga in the morning, or treating yourself to a cup of overpriced coffee. You might enjoy sensory things, like taking a hot bath or lighting your favorite candle.
Make yourself a priority and give your mind a break.
How much of a difference do you think you'd see over the course of a month if you swapped your on-the-go smoothie for well-balanced breakfast? What if by the end of the week, you finished a chapter of a new book just by spending 10 minutes every night reading a few pages?
By allowing yourself this time to re-charge, you're actually improving your later productivity. Your phone and laptop will eventually die if you don’t plug them in. Your mind works the same way.
There's a concept in psychology called the confirmatory bias. This essentially means that we're always on the lookout for things that confirm our beliefs about the world and we tend to ignore the things that don't fit into this system.
For example, if you start to feel like your friend has been acting differently around you, you pay more attention to behaviors that make this seem true: she hasn't called you this week, he flaked on your dinner plans, she didn't respond to your text. But you forgot that she is out of town on vacation this week, which is why she hasn't called, or that he told you he needed to reschedule dinner. Your mind is hypersensitive to the things that fit your perception and turned-off to the things that challenge it.
Why is that important?
The way you see the world is the way you treat it.
When you have the mindset that things are “going wrong,” you're going to pick up on every little thing that can be seen as a problem; whereas if your outlook tends to be generally optimistic, you're more likely to recognize good things that happen and feel better overall.
So how do you change it? For every negative thing that happens today, identify three positives. Maybe you heard your favorite song on the radio, or you completed a project you've been working on for weeks. It doesn't matter how big or small these positives are, just as long as you recognize them.
Research on physical and mental health suggests that fresh air can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. Several articles have examined stress in individuals who spend time outdoors compared to those who primarily are in urban areas. This study in particular observed a significant negative relationship between higher “green space” and perceived stress levels/cortisol secretion. In other words, they found that people felt less stressed when they were exposed to nature.
Creating a routine of spending 10 to 30 minutes a day outdoors can improve your memory, energy, concentration, vision, and immune system (check out this post for more information).
Whether you enjoy a morning walk before you head to work or an evening stroll after dinner, make it a part of your routine as you would any other daily task. Just like “me” time, you have to schedule it into your day.
Exercise your muscles. Sit at your desk and roll your neck in a circle, clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Stand up and do 10 calf raises. Extend your right arm across your chest, holding with your left hand over your elbow. Switch sides, and pull your left arm the same way.
Curl your back forward, leaning your head down towards your belly button, pushing your arms forward. Imagine there is a string from the bottom of your spine to the top of your head, pulling you straight up. Walk around, wherever you are, and do a few lunges on each leg.
Take a few minutes to center your body.
If you're able to get outside while stretching, even better. Take 5 long, deep breaths as you stretch each part of your body.
All of these things are quick, yet effective. They are small changes that have a big impact. The more you practice them, the easier they become. It only takes 10 minutes to begin feeling less stressed!
What are some of your “Go-To's” for stress relief? Let us know!
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