A more balanced, less stressful life does not necessarily need to be achieved through sweeping changes to your lifestyle. In fact, many of the best techniques for finding balance involve small changes that help you to re-focus. Often, the right approach to a better state of mind will involve combining a temporary change in mindset with a calming task that you’ve simply not made time for. Building one or more of these approaches into your busy day will help you stress less, and accomplish more.
- Take a walk
While the cardio benefits of walking are generally most significant on walks of at least 30 minutes, a short walk around the block is a great opportunity to remove yourself from a stressful environment at home or at work. By taking the time to work your muscles (which often hold stress) and focus your thoughts, even a quick stroll around the block has recuperative benefits.
- Make a cup of tea A 2009 study out of the UK demonstrated that the simple act of making tea is, in itself, linked to decreases in stress. The ritual is a chance to step away from your work, your computer and your concerns, if only for a few moments. If you’re not usually a tea drinker, then think of this as an opportunity to explore the many available varieties of tea. When you’ve found a variety you like, store it in an airtight container to maintain its fresh, clear flavor.
- Clean out your inbox
The glaring count of unread email messages can be a source of anxiety for many people — a constant reminder of work not completed or tasks requiring attention. A few minutes spent responding to, processing or even deleting old, unread messages can have a significant effect on your mindset. Start with the oldest messages, as those will often be the least relevant (and therefore easiest to process or delete quickly), and don’t feel the need to accomplish an entire clean-out in one 10 minute session.
- Make a list of goals
Take a few moments to write down a short list of three to five goals for yourself. Try to focus them around a particular element of your life — work, family, household or financial, for example. Attempt to concentrate your goals on what you hope to achieve, not the tasks necessary to get there.
- Clear off a small piece of your workspace
A clean, functional workspace can improve both your state of mind and your efficiency. Rather than attempting to clean the entirety of your desk, focus on one drawer or space at a time. Empty the contents and ask yourself of each item “Is this integral to the work I am doing?” If not, consider filing it away or storing it elsewhere.
- Call an old friend
A recent study at the University of North Carolina linked connections with good friends to a decrease in blood pressure and stress (and the Mayo clinic agrees). Reaching out to a good friend — even if only to make arrangements to speak at more length sometime soon — can both reduce stress and provide a reminder of your personal priorities.
- Create a weekly meal plan
The dangers of eating in response to stress are well-documented, but taking a quick break to plan your meals for the next week has the advantage of both clearing your mind and adding structure and organization to your eating and shopping routines. Studies consistently demonstrate that people who plan their meals ahead make healthier eating choices, which can lead to a decrease in stress.
- Take a shower
While medical studies have connected the steam from a hot shower to benefits that range from detoxification to reduced anxiety, the most obvious benefit of breaking up your day with a quick shower might simply be the opportunity to step out of a stressful environment and collect your thoughts for a few moments. Some large employers even have on-site exercise and shower facilities, which can provide quick respite from a day of hectic meetings.
- Write a note
If 10 minutes is just not enough time for a call to a friend, consider writing them a quick note. In a world in which we’re constantly connected by email, phone and social networks, a handwritten note is a stand-out expression of care and consideration. The very act of sitting and putting your thoughts on paper has the benefit of focusing your mind on the task at hand, and away from the sources of stress in your life.
Slow, focused stretching has been shown to reduce anxiety and can be performed nearly anywhere. A short session of stretching should focus on only a few muscle groups and should be centered on gradual repetition of the same muscles. Don’t forget to breathe — holding your breath elevates your heart rate and can add to the very anxiety you’re trying to alleviate.