A little, consistently over time, adds up to a lot. Consider how the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon over millions of years. Little by little, bit by bit.
Your stress levels can work much the same way. The everyday stresses like oversleeping, getting stuck in traffic, last minute requests, disappointments, arguments – even just being too busy to eat – are not too bad when you are facing just one or two of them alone. But when they pile up, sometimes all in one day, you might find yourself ready to explode when that “final straw” drops on you.
There are some simple techniques you can use throughout the day to help tip the balance back in your favor. Don’t let the little things pile up without taking these proactive steps to help your body and mind cope with the otherwise minor stresses you face every day. Each one takes just a minute or two, but the stress-reducing effects can last for hours, and over time can add up to big health benefits.
- Breathe. Take slow, deep breaths, drawing the air down into your belly. Close your eyes. Relax your shoulders, just letting them drop away from your ears, and breathe in another deep belly breath. Breathe deep at least one to three more times, focusing only on your inhale and exhale. Slowly open your eyes. This takes less than one minute. Never underestimate the power of slowing down to focus on your breath.
- Stretch. Moving your body slowly and deliberately will focus your mind on the present moment and help you relax tense muscles. Choose movements to counterbalance being still for long periods of time or repetitive motions. No need to push hard. Stretching should be gentle and comfortable. Use slow, steady movements – no bouncing, no quick movements. These could lead to injury. This can be just one to three minutes of stretching in place or it could be a 90-minute yin yoga class. At the minimum, get in the habit of stretching after you’ve been sitting for long periods of time.
- Hydrate. The most common recommendation is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. This is a simple way to track your water intake. The important thing is to regularly and consistently drink water (not soda, juice, or caffeinated beverages!) to ensure proper body functions. With only a 1% body fluid loss – like when exercising, or on a hot day – mood can be altered, concentration lessened, and headaches are common. Our bodies are mostly water, and as such, need water replenished regularly to function optimally. Keep a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. This takes about one to two minutes.
- Laugh. It’s been said that “laughter is the best medicine,” and with good reason! Scientific research shows laughter helps reduce pain and suffering for terminally ill patients, elevates mood, lowers blood pressure, increases productivity and mental focus and improves overall physical health. Try laughing intentionally – laughing “just because” – and even if it feels strange at first, it will likely get easier the more often you do it. Your body gets all the great benefits of laughter whether it is intentional or not! Try laughing in the shower, or in the car. Or get a buddy and take a giggle break together after a strenuous meeting. There are also lots of resources online to make laughing even easier. Try laughing one to five minutes straight. If you need to, break up the laughing with some slow deep breaths in between. Work your way up to laughing 10 to 15 minutes every day to get even better physical and psychological results.