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4 stress-reducing techniques that take only five minutes

Relaxing at work - by novishari

Relaxing at work – by novishari

Are you stressed at work? Quite probably – even if sometimes you are not aware of it. And it is equally likely that you have heard or been told that you should change your lifestyle in order to relieve this stress. Maybe you should work less. Sleep more. Do more exercise. Or drink less coffee, eat better, and so on.


It seems like a big project. Perhaps this is why you haven’t started yet.

While I strongly believe that long-term fundamental changes to our lifestyles is the ultimate answer to the problem of stress, I also believe that any small step that can reduce stress levels is very useful. In fact, such simple techniques can be the first steps towards some more fundamental lifestyle changes.

In this post we will look at four quick and simple 5-minute techniques that you can try TODAY; four simple methods to give you some relief here and now. Doing them several times a day can help you keep your stress levels down.

None of them requires any preliminary practice and none of them takes more than five minutes.

Try them today – and if they work for you, use them every day.


1.   Squeeze and release

“Come on, just relax!” Has anybody ever told you that? Most probably. And did you follow the advice and relax? Most probably not. When you are feeling anxious and tense, relaxing is not as easy as it might sound.

When you are feeling emotionally tense the likelihood is that your whole body is tense too. In the middle of a stressful day you might notice that your shoulders are hunched or your jaw is clenched. When you experience stress all muscles in your body cramp up. This is why backache and neck ache are very common stress-related signs.

If you could only consciously relax your muscles, the emotional stress would also decrease.

However, paradoxically, we are better off sometimes if instead of relaxing, we squeeze our muscles even further. After squeezing our muscles for about 10-15 seconds a release mechanism in our body will automatically kick in and our muscles will relax. By relaxing your muscles your whole body will reach a state of calm.

So how do I do this exactly?

Stand up. Clench your fists tightly. Bend your arms so that your fists are near your shoulders and flex your biceps as hard as you can. Make sure that the muscles in your legs, tights and buttocks are flexed too. Stay like this for 10-15 seconds, making your whole body as tense as you possibly can.

Now… let go. Sit down on a chair, and feel your muscles relax themselves.

Wait for a couple of minutes, and then repeat the whole process again.

This quick relaxation technique can be of great help in managing your stress levels during the day, especially when you are feeling so anxious that even sitting in one place for a minute seems unrealistic.


2.   Relax by focusing on your breathing

Meditation is proven to be one of the most powerful techniques to keep stress levels at bay.

Nonetheless, very few managers actually use meditation techniques. Partly because they find it a bit too “new age”, and partly because they find it too time consuming to learn and then use it during a hectic day in the office.

However, some benefits of meditation, such as slower and more even breathing pattern, lower heart rate and a calmer state of mind, can be achieved by the simple technique described below.

The underlying idea is the same as in meditation: empty your mind of all thoughts by focusing it on your body. Doing this even for a few minutes can reduce stress levels considerably.

So how do I do this exactly?

Sit down. Close your eyes. (It is possible to do this exercise with your eyes open, but it is much more difficult.)

Concentrate on your breathing. Sense your lungs filling up with air and then emptying. Be aware of your breathing: in and out, in and out. For a few minutes don’t think of anything else but your breathing.

If you catch your thoughts wondering, don’t worry. Just gently guide them back into focus on your breathing.

If you find it difficult to focus, repeating a sentence can be helpful; repetition is another common feature of meditation techniques. A simple way to use repetition in this exercise is to keep saying the following sentence to yourself: “My breathing is calm and relaxed… my breathing is calm and relaxed.”

Do this for two or three minutes.

Now open your eyes. And you are finished.

This exercise doesn’t only decrease stress levels by slowing down your breathing and lowering your heart rate, but it also helps you concentrate on your work better. So, if you find it hard to concentrate, if your thoughts always wonder, you should practice this method.


3.   Smile

If you are happy, you smile. This is natural.

However, the same is true the other way round: smiling and laughing as a conscious strategy can increase your levels of happiness.

In one famous experiment testing this theory psychologists instructed two groups of students to watch the same short cartoon. The first group had to watch it with a big grin on their face, whereas the second group had to adopt a grumpy facial expression while watching. Afterwards, when students were asked to rate the cartoon, the “smiling” group liked the film significantly more than the “grumpy” group.

In another experiment psychologists treated depression by temporarily numbing some of the facial muscles of their patients, in doing so making it impossible for them to produce the facial expression associated with sadness. In a few months patients receiving this special treatment felt considerably better than the control group.

So if you are stressed, feeling anxious, overwhelmed or unhappy, and you don’t feel like smiling or especially laughing, well… do it anyway.

I know it might sound silly but it actually works. Smiling and especially laughing lowers the levels of stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and dopamine) in your body.

So how do I do this exactly?

Just put a smile on your face. Even if you don’t feel like it. If you can have a laugh, it is even better.

I know, I know… somebody laughing for no obvious reason is usually considered a weirdo in most cultures.

To save yourself from the embarrassment, why don’t you use your favourite funniest, most silly YouTube video as a trigger and as an excuse to laugh? This is mine. It never fails to make me giggle.

What’s yours?


4.   Take a short walk

This list of 5-minute stress-reducing techniques wouldn’t be complete without something that involves some physical activity.

Any physical activity is great for stress reduction as it helps to pump up endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.

So if you have five minutes to spare, why don’t you do some exercise such as a brisk walk? Of course, any cardio exercise would have the same effect, but skiing, dancing, or horse riding might be slightly more difficult to do at the workplace.

So how do I do this exactly?

  • Get out of the office building and walk around the block. Fresh air is an additional benefit.
  • Have your colleague walk with you while having your scheduled important meeting. Not all meetings require us to sit down.
  • Don’t use the elevator, use the stairs instead. Especially when going up.

Even if you feel that you haven’t got the time for regular exercise after working hours, I am sure you can find five-minute slots for physical activity at work.

You can see that it doesn’t take much to at least try to keep your stress levels down. Don’t wait for the stress to pass: it has an uncomfortable habit of getting worse if you don’t do anything positive about it. Be pro-active. You might be surprised how effective these techniques are. And don’t forget:  use these techniques often, even before stress appears on the horizon.


Illustrated by novishari