If you’re finding life fraught and frantic, here’s ways to relax and dial down the stress…
Identify what’s beyond your control
It’s hard to find ways to relax when we’re stressed, our minds whirring with ‘what ifs’. Take five minutes to identify what you’re worried about, then ask yourself if you have any control over it. If the answer is yes, then resolve to take action. If it’s no, decide to let go – and make ‘It is what it is’ your mantra.
Put pen to paper
Find somewhere to sit with a pen and paper – writing manually is important, as it’s a break from normal life. Write out your worries, your fears, whatever is on your mind – then, when five minutes are up, stop. Burn your notes or stick them in the bottom drawer. The point is to get all worries out of your head.
Anything pleasurable but pointless. Playing hide-and-seek with family, throwing balls for your dog, bouncing on a trampoline. The older we get – and the more stressed we become – the less we play. But, it soothes troubled minds and reconnects us to our younger, more carefree selves.
Chewing is a powerful relaxant – whether it’s gum, or chewing food for longer – as it can help reduce blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Adding just five minutes to your lunch by eating mindfully – really thinking about the taste and the texture – adds to your pleasure.
Close your eyes
Simply shutting your eyes provides an instant break from a busy office, glaring screen, or cluttered kitchen. Count slowly to 10 and back down again, or trace a figure of eight repeatedly onto the palm of your hand for five minutes.
Make some space
Decluttering and embracing minimalism is a simple way to relax. A five-minute clear-out of your desk (that pile of papers or mountain of notebooks), your purse (forgotten loyalty cards, ancient receipts) or kitchen will lighten your load, make life easier, and help lift your mood.
Free your face…
Our faces carry so much tension. Try gritting your teeth and opening your lips as wide as you can – hold, release, repeat. Now scrunch up your face… hold, relax, repeat. Enjoy a stress-free face!
…and your body
Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and concentrate on where the tension is gathered. Shrug your shoulders to your ears, then release them. Clench fingertips into your palms, then release. Continue downwards – clench your stomach, thighs, and calves, and curl and uncurl your toes. Feel the warmth of deep relaxation flood through you.
Plan a holiday
Whether it’s two weeks at the beach or a weekend break close to home, just gathering ideas, creating an itinerary, and imagining yourself there is an instant pick-me-up. So, get googling for your dream destination!
We tend to breathe too high in our lungs, making the brain think the body is in stress mode. Try breathing from your belly and relaxing your shoulders. Count to eight in your head while you breathe in, hold for four counts, then breathe out, counting to eight again.
Stop in your tracks
You don’t have to be in a beautiful place – a garden is great, but a quiet kitchen will do, too. Be still and pay attention to the sounds around you – whether that’s birds, rain, or traffic. A short spell of stillness can be deeply restorative.
Science repeatedly shows that the act of smiling reduces our body’s stress response. Laughing is better still, so if there’s a YouTube video that makes you laugh, open it up!
Smell the coffee
You don’t even have to drink it! Studies found that the rich smell of freshly brewed coffee carries soothing powers – it stimulates our bodies to produce special proteins with antioxidant properties that help de-stress our system.
Find a natural object – a flower, an apple, a leaf – and examine it as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Notice every aspect. If your thoughts begin to drift, gently bring them back to the object. This mindfulness technique helps to clear your head.
Go for a walk
Brisk walking can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquiliser, sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses. Green spaces are ideal, and put the brain into a meditative state.
Phone a friend
Spend five minutes talking and listening to someone you don’t see nearly enough. A quick catch-up provides a complete mental break. At the end, put a date in the diary to meet – then you’ll have the added pleasure of anticipation to sustain you, too!
Perform an act of kindness
Whether it’s sending flowers to a newly single friend or organising afternoon tea with your elderly aunt, spending five minutes making someone else happy will make you happier, too. It takes the focus away from your problems, boosts your energy, and makes you feel stronger and the world seem like a better place.
Cuddle your dog
…or your cat, guinea pig, or bunny rabbit. Stroking a pet is an effective way to unwind. Just five minutes spent interacting with their dog leaves owners feeling more relaxed, more optimistic, and also far less preoccupied with their worries.
Grab your colouring pencils
Find a simple creative activity that you can enjoy on autopilot – and one that has no ‘aim’ or purpose beyond itself. Adult colouring books are great for this – they help you de-stress while your mind wanders. Knitting is another option, tinkering with modelling clay, playing an instrument if you can – whatever you can rely on to stop yourself overthinking.
Find two tennis balls
Pop them inside a sock, place it between you and a wall, then lean your back against it, rolling the balls by bending and straightening your legs. Next, lie down with the ball sock under your lower back, slowly rolling it up your spine. Rolling the balls under your feet also works wonders: the perfect release for tight muscles!
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