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You don’t have to spend 20 minutes staring at a candle to reap the benefits of mindfulness and meditation; these quick and easy ways to unwind will help you beat stress in seconds.
If you've got one minute:
Do a job – but do it mindfully.
According to the new book Washing Up Is Good For You (Aster, £12.99), ‘there is such a temptation to rush through small daily tasks like washing up, particularly when they’re repetitive and seemingly endless. But at the point of washing up, there are just the dishes in front of you and a second to take a breath or two.’ A study has shown that mindfully washing dishes can significantly lower your stress level; people who focused on smelling the soap, feeling the water temperature and touching the dishes upped their feelings of inspiration by 25% and lowered their nervousness levels by 27%. Why? Mindfulness has been proven to stop over-thinking, and decrease feelings of anxiety and overwhelm.
Yep, that’s all there is to it. If you find it difficult to settle your mind, says clinical hypnotherapist Dr Sarah Henderson, this is a great way of taking control of your thought processes. ‘Count rhythmically down from 20 to one,’ she recommends. ‘Close your eyes and visualise the numbers as you count down. As you focus on the numbers, imagine them being written on a chalkboard, even illuminated in festive lights!’
‘Encourage the circulation of fluids and energy by massaging the soft area between your thumb and index finger,’ says Dr Henderson. ‘Firmly massage the area on each hand while allowing your mind to focus on the experience of relaxation.’
Do a brain dump
Counterproductive thoughts and emotions build up during the day and if you don’t process them, they could lead to poor sleep and anxiety. Get a few bits of paper and a pen then start listing all the stuff that’s floating around in your head. Leave the list for a few hours, then come back to it. ‘Your worst-case-scenario thinking won’t get better until you get it all out of your head,’ says resilience expert Paula Davis- Laack. ‘It’s amazing how manageable a problem looks when it’s on paper.’
If you've got five minutes:
Try this stress buster
Based on the psychotherapy practice of progressive muscular relaxation, this can be done any time, anywhere. According to US psychologist Dr Deepan Chatterjee, who developed the technique, begin by breathing slowly and deeply for two minutes. Next, clench your teeth, hold for 30 seconds, and release; then make fists with both hands and hold for 30 seconds, then release; then do the same with your shoulders; hunch, then release. Finally, take a deep breath in while blowing your stomach out like a balloon. Hold, then release.
Do some 4-7-8 breathing
Mind on overdrive? Alternative health expert Dr Andrew Weil created the 4-7-8 breathing technique to calm the brain and relax the body. ‘It is utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere,’ he says. ‘This exercise is a natural tranquilliser for the nervous system.’ To do it, exhale making a ‘whoosh’ sound. Close your mouth and breathe in to a count of 4, then hold your breath for a count of 7. Finally, breathe out slowly to a count of 8, making a whooshing sound again. Repeat the cycle three times.
If you've got 10 minutes:
To psychologists, ‘flow’ is a state of being fully immersed in an enjoyable activity, allowing you to switch off from your worries. Gardening, playing an instrument, reading a book, and drawing are all known to create flow. ‘Experience being in the moment as you allow yourself to let go of your everyday logical thinking,’ says Dr Sarah Henderson. Be warned – a side effect of flow is that you lose track of time, so remember to set an alarm.
Do a walking meditation
Slip out of the front door and get rid of nervous tension by inhaling as you take four steps, then exhaling for four steps. Work up to six to eight steps per inhale and exhale. ‘Whether you’re a city dweller or surrounded by rolling countryside, stepping outside can help to instantly relax your mind, says Dr Henderson.
Take time out
Set a timer for 10 minutes, and do this tried-and-tested mindfulness meditation by Andy Puddicombe at Headspace.
1. Get settled; find a quiet space to relax. Sit comfortably in a chair, with your back straight.
2. Take five deep, audible breaths. On the last one, close your eyes.
3. Check in to your body. Observe your posture; be aware of where your body touches the floor. What can you hear, smell, feel?
4. Scan your body from head to toe, observing any discomfort. Scan again, noticing which bits of you feel relaxed. Then notice any thoughts that arise. Note your mood, but don’t judge it.
5. Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice the rising and falling sensation that it creates in the body. Begin counting your breaths in your head – 1 when you inhale, 2 when you exhale, 3 when you inhale, all the way up to 10. Then start at 1 again. Continue until the timer sounds.
6. Spend a few moments just sitting. Enjoy the rare chance to let your mind simply be. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.