Two 5-Minute Ways to Reduce Stress, Backed by Science

There is no time. In a world where juggling multiple projects, assignments, programs and responsibilities is the pinnacle of achievement and productivity, we can get a little in over our heads. Work is stressful enough — with that colleague you can’t stand, that micromanaging boss or that tedious project — and then there’s home, too. Whether you have kids, a house or an apartment, there are always bills to pay, a social life to juggle and the pressure of the future.

Financial and work-related stress is the most common in the United States, and according to the APA, more than half of Americans report stress having a negative effect on both their personal and professional lives. With so much riding on our ability to be productive and strong for those around us, we found research on two major techniques used to reduce the harmful effects of stress.

While there is so little available time during a busy work day, five minutes of stress-eliminating activity has a huge effect on your mood, alertness and esteem. Try one, or both, of these centering techniques today.

Meditation

Candles, bamboo mats and a statue of Buddha may come to mind when you hear the word meditation, but this is a misconception. While meditation was first seen in the Hindu faith, it has been an old tradition in religions around the world and has become a popular modern practice. No matter what you believe in, meditation has many proven health benefits and is one of the leading ways to relieve stress.

Mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating stress and anxiety, according to Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Hoge. In a study of patients suffering from general anxiety disorders, daily meditation was proven to subdue anxious thoughts and help refocus the patients on the present moment — even if only for five minutes.

So, you’re totally down for this. No more stress and the ability to focus on work again? Yes, please.

What do you do, though — and how do you do it? Meditation sounds kind of intimidating and vague, and you don’t have any time for funny business. Meditation simply means a time of quiet thought for the purpose of relaxation, so how you choose to meditate can be completely up to you and your needs.

To get you started, however, here are a few pointers:

  1. Eyes off the screen. Put your phone away, and minimize things on your computer for a second. Close your eyes to remove images from your brain. Social media is a known anxiety producer, and the internet is constantly buzzing with activity and information. Remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the electronic world.
  2. Breathe deeply and intentionally. Controlling your breathing will bring your body to balance, help you feel more in control of your physical being and give your mind something else to focus on. The simplicity of breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth should relax nervous thoughts.
  3. Become aware of your surroundings and physical body. Focus on the present moment and your surroundings. Maybe there is a plant in the office that brings you peace, or the hum of a desk fan that sounds familiar. Instead of obsessing over the future, realize that you are in control of the present and you can only do you best here and now.
  4. Rehearse a positive thought. Think of something you want to reinforce to yourself today. Whether it is “I am at peace” or “I am happy with myself,” whisper it quietly or think it over and over in your head. Realize what you are saying.

Don’t worry about folding your legs or turning up your palms if you’re embarrassed. Simply straighten your back in your chair and take five minutes to center yourself quietly. You can return to your present task refocused and without the crowded mind you had before.

Another great stress reliever is yoga. While you may not have time for a full yoga class during work, check out these office yoga poses you can do at your desk. Yoga incorporates stretching, meditation and physical activity to reduce anxiety and quiet the mind.

Physical Activity

No doubt you’ve heard this one before, but there is a common misconception regarding physical exertion and stress relief. You don’t have to have a full workout to reduce anxiety. Brief bouts of exercise throughout your day play an essential role in your health and mood, according to a Melbourne study.

Physical exertion releases positive endorphins into our bloodstream, which act as natural painkillers. Exercise can help reduce tension, increase sleep quality and sharpen your alertness during the day. Allowing yourself a five-minute break during your day to take the long way to the bathroom, walk down the hall or step outside for a bit can produce anti-anxiety effects in just minutes.

Speaking of which, even less than five minutes of physical activity can reduce stress, according to a study done by Northwestern Medical School. Taking the time to walk also removes you from a potentially stressful situation, if your inbox is crowded with email or a cubical mate is annoying you with his pen-taps.

Which Is Better?

If you’ve only got five minutes to spare, which should you invest your time into? A meditation session, or a walk? If you’re interested in the science, we have good news for you.

A study done at the University of Wisconsin concluded that meditation and physical activity are equally effective in reducing anxiety. Even the act of deep breathing can release the endorphins you need to refocus your energy on positive thoughts and reduce the everyday anxiety we’re so accustomed to.

It doesn’t take much to rid yourself of stress. Even if you’re crunched for time, there’s always a minute to breathe, smile and remind yourself that you’ve got this day in the bag.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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