You’ve been in back-to-back meetings for what seems like two weeks, the unread messages in your inbox have hit triple digits, and you can’t recall the last time you got more than five hours of sleep. Between work, workouts, your extracurricular activities, and attempting to maintain your relationships—you’re running on empty. And if one more item gets added to your to-do list, your head might explode.
In our day-to-day lives, stress is inevitable. But when it’s left unmanaged, it can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health. So, when things get extra-crazy, that’s exactly when you need to stop, slow down, and de-stress. We know, we know—you don’t have time. But even though spending a day at the spa or jetting off to a luxurious beach vacation aren’t options (at least for us non-celebrities), there are plenty of other ways to take a breather.
Whether you have five minutes between meetings or can spare a few hours, here are some quick and simple methods to bring some calm into your day.
If You Have 5 Minutes
A lot of us tend to switch to staring at our phones when we have a momentary lull, but consciously doing nothing is a better way to unwind. Even if you only have a few minutes to decompress, you still can relax your mind and body with some simple techniques. If you’re at work, take a quick break from staring at your computer monitor to stand up, stretch, and take a few deep breaths. Or, if you’re somewhere else, say, waiting for a train or at the doctor’s office, close your eyes, pop in your headphones, and just take a minute to slow down. Have a hard time sitting still? Do something totally mindless, like cleaning the receipts out of your purse.
These quick fixes can also help ease your mind while traveling, before a big presentation, or in any other scenario that makes you feel nervous or overwhelmed.
If You Have 15 Minutes
When you have few more minutes—a break between meetings or time for quick lunch—taking a short walk is a good way to clear your head, even if it’s just around your office building. Getting away from your current environment gives your mind something new to focus on, plus even a little bit of exercise provides endorphins that elevate your mood.
You can also take 15 minutes to call to a friend or family member, read a magazine, or scribble some thoughts down in a journal. Or, try something that requires even less energy, like browsing gorgeous vacation destinations on Pinterest. The key is to separate yourself from everything that’s wearing you down and find a moment of levity. Even a short escape from the grind can make you refreshed (and more productive) when you return.
If You Have an Hour
When I have a good chunk of time to myself, I sometimes feel obligated to use it to get other things done, like errands or phone calls—but I’ve learned that the only way to use that time to truly reduce my stress level is to do something totally for me. A yoga class or quick burst of exercise is a good method to calm your spinning head, or enjoy some light-hearted TV or an ice cream or coffee date with a friend. You could also spend an hour playing with the puppies at the pet store, indulging in the total silence of a library, or browsing for random treasures at a thrift store. And sometimes, what you need most to decompress might just be sitting by yourself and people-watching while you let your brain slow down.
If You Have a Half-Day
The next time you have even a half of a weekend day to yourself, try using it to get outside your traditional routine and duties. Take time to indulge in a nice experience that lets you relax and regroup. Take a day trip, attend a concert, go shopping, or treat yourself to a pedicure. In nicer weather, being outdoors—gardening, jogging, or walking your dog—can be a great way to spend time with zero stress (or cost). If you can do so without severe withdrawals, leave your iPhone at home (or at least silenced) to get the most out of your "me time."
It’s safe to assume that stress is a normal part of life for all of us, but the key is making sure it doesn’t run our lives or grow out of control. Even when free time is a luxury, carving out a few minutes or hours to calm down is an important part of self-care. So there you have it—an excuse to take a coffee break or cancel your plans tonight, and finally make some time for you.