Stress is just a fact of life for the majority of us living in the 21st Century. The mere thought of next week's presentation, the mother in law coming to stay, the kids Nativity play costumes to be made all have the tendency to send our stress levels soaring. Which means the sources of stress are literally everywhere!
And stress, and its associated hormones, can have a rather nasty affect on our bodies. One of the hormones that is released when we feel stressed is cortisol. The function of this hormone is to help us replenish our body with energy, after the stress has passed, driving us to eat more food. This means that the more cortisol in our systems, the more food we are likely to eat and then store as fat. Whilst this is useful when we need to sprint away from a situation or fight it head on, it's less useful in today's stress inducing situations.
So there's weight gain, but stress is also associated with worsening or increasing the risk of conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer's, Type II diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, asthma and premature aging. Yikes!
And, however much we reframe the situation in our minds, and put a happy face on it, stress is pretty impossible to avoid. So, if we can't avoid stress, it's time we learnt how to banish it, or at the very least cope with it, so we can get on with our everyday lives. And five minutes is about how long we can spend...
So, here are my top nine tips to banish stress, in five minutes (or less).
TIP 1 // Take a Walk
Take a walk around the block. Gentle exercise like walking helps the body to release the stress hormones that have built up in the body.
TIP 2 // Smell Something Good
Having a sniff of a scent you love will provide immediate relaxation. So spray some of your favourite perfume or smell a flower whenever you feel yourself start to stress, and indulge yourself in the delicious smell.
TIP 3 // Release the Tension
Try contracting and then relaxing your muscles systematically. Squeeze and hold the tension and then completely relax and feel it all release into the space around you. Start with your toes and move all the way up through your body.
TIP 4 // Relax to Music
Music has the unique ability to transcend our thoughts and take us away from ourselves. Exactly what we want when we need a respite from the stress. So find some classical, or relaxing music that you love, sit back, close your eyes and find that longed for peace and calm.
TIP 5 // Write it Down
Write down everything you're thinking about in a stream of consciousness, so without worrying about grammar, spelling or sentence structure. Having done this, organise them and work out what's really stressing you out. Stress often comes from 1 source but pervades across multiple areas of our lives. By knowing the source we are more able to tackle it.
TIP 6 // Talk it Out
Meet a friend for a five minute rant. Really go for it and let out all that pent up emotion, tension and stress. I'd recommend telling her or him that this is what you're going to do or it could turn nasty! Take it in turns so your friend has the option to vent her stress to you too.
TIP 7 // Star Jumps
If you work in an office, you may want to lock yourself in the stationary cupboard for this one or your colleagues may think you're having some kind of break down! But there is method in this madness because studies repeatedly show that aerobic exercise (the type of exercise that uses oxygen to fuel the muscles, like cardiovascular running, rowing, cross training or cycling) helps to lower cortisol levels, as well as improve your mood through the release of endorphins - the brain's happiness chemicals.
TIP 8 // Delegate Something
Sometimes, just sometimes, it's OK not to do everything ourselves. Delegation is awesome. So, do it. Find something on your 'to do list' that you yourself don't have to do, and get an appropriately qualified person to do it instead (i.e probably best not to get the computer maintenance man to do your 4pm conference call about your quality control procedures in the Chinese factory, or your boss to sort out the baby sitter for tomorrow night....) By freeing up some of your valuable time you'll be able to concentrate on what you need to do to solve the stressful situation you're in.
TIP 9 // Breathe
I know you know this one, but do you actually consciously change your breathing when you're stressed? Because, when we feel stressed our breathing pattern and rate changes as part of our physiological reaction to the stress hormones. This type of breathing can prolong stress and feelings of anxiety as it disrupts the balance of gases in the body.
Studies show that controlling your breath is an excellent way to manage stress because it promotes relaxation and helps reduce the production of stress hormones. So, the next time you're feeling stressed take a deep breath in through your nose so that your stomach extends and, as you do this, say in your mind 'I am' and then exhale slowly through pursed lips, whilst saying in your mind 'relaxed'. Do this for five minutes and see how relaxed you feeling afterwards.
Got any other five minute tips to help with stress? Share them below because I'd love to hear from you.