No, it’s not just you and me, says Kate Faithfull-Williams. Work-related stress, anxiety and depression affects 440,000 people per year, according to the Health and Safety Executive Labour Force Survey. Making time to de-stress – even for 60 seconds – could be a huge step to feeling better.
So, you’re rushing to a meeting, your smartphone is buzzing and you’re sure you’ve forgotten something important. Sounds like the perfect moment to relax – here’s how…
1. Vacuum your belly
No Dyson required. Research published in the International Journal of Yoga shows breathing exercises like pranayama can instantly relax you by inhibiting the production of harmful stress hormones.
“Take a few deep diaphragmatic breaths – the extra oxygen flowing through your body is both calming and energising,” explains performance coach Dalton Wong of Twenty Two Training. “Inhale slowly through your nose, breathing into your lower belly. Hold your breath for one or two seconds then exhale slowly through your mouth, internally vacuuming all the air from your belly. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath.” Aim to do seven or eight full breaths in 60 seconds.
2. Text a thank you
“One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin,” writes neuroscientist Dr Alex Korb in his book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression. Serotonin, also known as the happy hormone, balances out cortisol, your stress hormone. He adds: “Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” So text ‘thank you’ to a friend who’s made you smile. You don’t have to explain – simply writing those two magic words can de-stress you.
3. Stretch away stress
When researchers at the University of Kentucky tested the effectiveness of stretching on muscle tension, they discovered stretching also had a mood-boosting effect on the subjects of the study. It even lowered subjects’ blood pressure, a key marker of changing from a stressed to relaxed state.
What’s the most calming stretch? “Stand with feet hip-width apart, interlace your hands behind your back, your shoulder blades together and roll forward from your hips into a straight-legged bend,” says registered osteopath Leah Hearle. “When you lower your head below your hips, gravity gives an extra rush of blood to the brain, which instantly lifts your mood.”
If you can’t do a big stretch right now, Leah has a more discreet move for you. “Simply tuck your chin down to create a double chin.” This may feel awkward at first, says Leah, “but it’s actually the neutral position for your head, neck and spine, which means more restorative oxygen to your brain.”
4. Dance into your zen zone
The de-stressing effects of exercise are well-documented in multiple studies, including in the journal Primary Care Companion. But you’ve only got a minute, so make it count. “Get up and dance to the radio,” says Dalton. “Even 60 seconds of heart-pumping cardio will improve your mood.”
If you’re on a crowded train and clearing a dancefloor isn’t an option, pop your earphones on and tap your toe to the beat. Research from Sam Houston State University, US, found that even small rhythmic movement increases energy and decreases tiredness.
5. Massage your hand
When you feel the wave of stress rising inside you, knead the fleshy part of between your thumb and forefinger. Even a short hand massage lowers your heart rate and lessens anxiety, found a Japanese study.