10 Low Effort Ways to Reduce Stress
One of the number one obstacles individuals report getting in the way of successfully making a healthy habit change is not having enough time. Making changes to our diet, exercise, sleep, or even taking steps to improve our mindset and mental health takes time, energy and resources to plan and execute. There's also the often over-looked aspect of emotional labor involved in habit change. Things like confronting a misalignment between how we're living and how we want to be, grappling with our motivation, healing our relationship to food, exercise or ourselves and the negative self-talk that can result can be painful and difficult. Healing is hard work and it isn't all roses and sunshine. To all of those on that journey - I see you. Keep going.
In our already over-scheduled lives, any one of these things on their own could be a show stopper, so why bother, right? In my blog post, "3 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Getting Healthier", I go more in depth on some specific techniques and mindset shifts to help you move past getting started, time constraints and set backs. You can read the article here.
My goal for today is to reaffirm that you can make meaningful habit change happen with just 5-minutes a day. I had the privelege of learning about habit change from some exceptional experts in my health coaching certification program (read more on my journey here). Through their expertise and my own experience here is what I've surmised about habit change:
Start now - If you wait until you have more time or until conditions are near perfect, you'll never start.
Choose your hard - Is the effort to make health changes now or dealing with health challengs later harder? Either way you're making a choice, so choose your hard.
Start small - Don't try to boil the ocean. The most amazing transformations start with baby steps. Get consistent with the baby step, then build.
Change isn't linear - You will have a setback. Instead of making your goal to show up and go all out everyday, just adjust your level of effort to your energy and be consistent, and when (not if) you fall off track, get back to it as soon as you can.
Today I want to focus the conversation on Chronic stress, because basically if you're an adult who is breathing and has a pulse right now, it's affecting you and/or the people around you in some way. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every bodily process and puts us at an increased risk for many of the health problems we encounter today including anxiety, depression, heart attack, stroke, digestive issues, weight gain, headaches, muscle pain and tension, sleep problems and memory/cognitive impairments. If you're suffering from any of these symptoms:
How are your stress levels right now?
How do you currently manage your stress?
How effective and consistent is your current stress management practice?
How often has your doctor asked you about stress when evaluating you for one or more of these symptoms?
Doctors often prescribe medications that address the symptoms. I'm not in any way anti-medication, however, to really address the symptoms and feel better for the long term, we have to get to the underlying root cause(s), and stress is more than likely a causal factor or is driving inflammation for another underlying health condition which is not helping. The good news is that life-style changes can make a significant impact on stress related symptoms. The bad news is, it takes time and effort many of us don't have. If your stress management plan needs some attention, and you're limited on time. Here are 10 low-effort ways to manage stress that call be done in 5-10 minutes or less:
Stay hydrated - Studies have shown that dehydration can increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Keep a glass of water on your night stand and chug it down right after you wake up. If you exercise a lot, or drink a lot of coffee or alcohol, you may also need to add electrolytes. I love Nuun Hydration tablets.
Go for a Walk - A quick walk or burst of any kind of physical activity can help discharge pent up energy related to stress or anxiety. It also releases endorphins which stimulate relaxation and boost mood.
3-5 Deep Breaths - Deep belly breaths that stimulate the diaphragm deactivates our body's fight or flight response and activates the relaxation response.
5-minute Sound Bath - Soothing sounds or music trigger our brains to release dopamine and oxytocin, our feel-good and mood-boosting hormones. Try out these 5-minute sound baths!
Eat stress busting foods - Certain foods contain phtonutrients that support our body's relxation response. For example, bananas and dark chocolate contain magnesium which promotes relaxation. Healthy fats like avocados or nuts make our brains more reslient to stress. Leafy greens contain calcium which helps our bodies produce serotonin, and organic grass fed beef contains B vitamins that lower our cortisol and don't contain chemicals like glyphosate that are inflammatory and can counteract the health benefits of the good stuff.
Laugh - Laughter increases your oxygen intake and circulation. Interestingly, laugher initially revs up the stress response, but afterward sparks a reduction in heart and breathing rates and promotes muscle relaxation. Over time this helps promote good vagal tone which makes us more resilient to stress.
Take a bath - A warm bath activates the body's relaxation response. Plus it feels amazing! Take your bath up a notch by adding bath salts and essential oils. To make sure you're not counteracting your relaxation efforts, check the Environmental Working Group website for a list of safe and environmentally friendly products here.
Talk to a friend - Social interaction plus having someone we trust who understands us act as a stress buffer.
Make a stress list - Brain dump all of the things floating around in your brain that are causing you stress right now. This quick exercise can help you release the energy required to remember your to-do's. When you're ready, come back to the list and figure out how to knock it out. If you're still not feeling motivated, you may need more rest. Read more about why motivation may not be the issue here. You can also use the table in this article to match your stress management technique to the type of stress you're encountering. Fun fact, there are at least 4 different types of stress.
Practice 5-min. of self-care - Don't see what you need on this list, or looking for even more ideas? Grab your free copy of my 30 days of 5-minute self-care calendar here!
I hope this post inspires you to begin or restart consistently engaging in a stress management practice knowing you can do it in 5 minutes a day (just over 30 minutes a week). When 5 minutes makes you feel good, you're more likely to do it again, and before you know it, 5 minutes turns into 25 minutes. If you found this article helpful, please share it with a friend. Let me know if the comments what techniques work for you. Your responses could help someone else!