When the world isn’t in the clutches of a pandemic, parenting is a stress-inducing endeavor. Now? Everything’s in overdrive. We’re cooped up at home, dealing with a crashing economy and coronavirus anxiety while trying to raise and school children, accomplish work, and care for our friends and loved ones. It’s a lot and it’s more than okay to be a little stressed out right now. But as we all need to be our best selves for our families during the COVID-19 crisis, we have to find ways to cope and manage our stress in what little time we have. We spoke to a variety of experts — psychologists, mental health consultants and more — who provided 22 stress relief exercises anyone can do in five minutes. Will all of these be right for you? No. But, chances are, there’s something here to help you try to find your center and manage your stress in a few minutes.
- Take a Dozen Deep Breaths
“Take 12, slow, deep breaths,” says Amber Trueblood, LMFT. “Inhale as deeply as possible comfortably, and fully empty your lungs for each exhale.” Do this for five minutes, breathing as slowly and deeply as you can. The process works because it oxygenates your blood cells, reduces your blood pressure, and helps balance cortisol and adrenaline levels in your bloodstream. That means, of course, that the exercise reduces stress.
- Do Some Push-Ups
Sometimes, when anxiety and frustration are so high, the quickest way to reduce stress and metabolize the extra adrenaline is to just move. “Get up from your seat, get down on the ground and do 15 push-ups” says Trueblood.
- Have a Dance Party With Your Kids
A spontaneous dance party sounds silly, but five minutes of releasing tension, pent-up energy, and stress in a fun way while no one is watching while dancing to your favorite songs will honestly make you feel better, says Claire Barber, a certified mental health consultant and family care special. “Dance in order to get your blood flowing, your muscles stretched, and your endorphins released.”
- Imagine a Raisin.
Yeah, it sounds out there, but the raisin imagination exercise is a five-minute mindfulness technique that helps de-stress you by making you stay in the moment. It goes like this: Sit in a quiet spot and close your eyes. Imagine holding a raisin in your hand, and really imagine it. Think about the weight of the raisin in your palm, the texture of it against your skin, and the smell of it. Imagine placing the raisin in your mouth, thinking of the taste of it, the feeling as you chew it. “This exercise will help you relax by having you focus on the here-and-now instead of focusing on the stresses you’ve been experiencing throughout the day,” says Barber.
- Reset For 5 minutes Every Hour
One way to manage stress throughout the work day is set an alarm on your phone for every hour. This is your reminder to stand up from your work, take a deep breath, and focus on yourself, says Katherine Bihlmeier, a life coach who specializes in mental health. “It stops you from getting caught up in the stress cycle, trying to be available for everyone and feeling completely exhausted in the end.”
- Make a Snack
While eating your feelings is not always an advisable coping mechanism, taking a break to make a snack for later or for the whole family can pull you away from the stresses, and you can focus on the moment of cutting the carrots, slicing the cheese, says Catherine Franssen, a professor of Neurostudies at Longwood University.
- Breathe Like a Yogi
Nyasa Breathing is a simple breathing technique that, within five minutes, can seriously reduce stress. It’s simple, per Kali Patrick, a sleep wellness coach and therapeutic yoga teacher. “Place your thumbs at the base of your index fingers, and, as you inhale, slide the thumbs up the fingers until the tips touch.” Do that two to three times and you’ll find you’ve calmed down quite a bit.
- Have One, Low-Stakes Home Project
One way to decrease stress is to have one super low-stakes at-home project you can return to for five minutes at a time. “Whether it’s a book or a puzzle, or even just an at-home project you’ve been meaning to do, having something that is just for you can be helpful for reducing stress,” says GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC. These projects can help you decompress — and can legitimately be anything. “It can be great to have a crossword book in the bathroom to look at when your children are occupied.” Anything to take five minutes of your energy off the current moment will help.
- Follow The 4-8-7 Breathing Technique
The 4-8-7 breath is a kind of “reverse” hyperventilation, says Aubrey Phelps, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP, PPCES. “When we hyperventilate, we’re telling our body that we need more oxygen, that we’re fighting or fleeing. Slowing down our breath communicates the opposite: that we’re safe, we’re calm, there’s no need to pool resources to act.” The 4-8-7 breath actively soothes the vagus nerve, which tends to be overstimulated when stressed. Simply inhale for a count of four, hold that breath for a count of eight, and exhale to a count of seven. Do it three or four times.
- Do Some Body Scan Meditation
A body scan helps you realize where you might be holding tension in your body when stressed. It can also help you focus on one thing — focusing on how your body feels — than all of the stressful situations that you might be facing, says Phelps. In a standing or lying position, close your eyes. Breathe normally, in and out. Begin by bringing attention to your feet, then your ankles, calves, thighs, and work your way up, slowly, just bringing your awareness to each part of your body, until you’ve moved up through your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, forehead, and eyes. Don’t “do” anything; simply observe each piece of your body. At the end of the scan, take some deep inhales, and slow exhales, thinking of breathing in energy and breathing out tension from any of the areas you found during your scan.
- Play an Uplifting Song.
It sounds simple and it is. But blasting an uplifting song that you love can absolutely reduce stress, says Dr. Sabrina Molden, a Licensed Psychologist at the Center for Personal Growth. “Music can actually change brain chemistry. Dancing and singing can help too.” So, put on your headphones, close the door behind you, and listen to your favorite song. Or, if you can’t step away from work, put your favorite song on your computer and take a moment to enjoy the sweet tunes.
- Lock Yourself in Your Bathroom.
Okay, you can’t just only lock yourself in your bathroom for five minutes, although it might help you calm down, says Lynell Ross, a Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Behavior Change Specialist. “Find a quiet place and lay down flat on the floor. Put your hands on your heart and feel your heart rate coming down, while concentrating on your breathing. Stay there for five minutes in silence. Focus on your breath and your heart.” By doing this, you’re actively quieting your nervous system.
- Practice Mindful Cleaning.
Part mental health exercise, part overall stress reliever by cleaning and tidying up, Jeremy Lipkowitz, a mindfulness trainer and emotional intelligence coach, recommends practicing mindfulness while cleaning. “As you wash your dishes or clean and tidy your house, see if you can drop into your body and feel whatever sensations are arising. Even a single moment or few seconds on noticing sensations counts as a mindfulness practice.”
- End the Day with Three Gratitudes.
Ending your day with gratitudes — just three things that went well today or what you were grateful for — can train the mind to shed your worries and negativities, and strengthens your ability to feel appreciation, not stress, says Jeremy Lipowitz, mindfulness trainer and emotional intelligence coach.
- Play Like A Kid.
“You know what adults need? Recess. A break,” says Eric First, M.D., FAIS. “We need something to take us out of our everyday routines filled with responsibility.” So, while it sounds silly, First recommends doing something like juggling. “Playtime is associated with an increase in the production of dopamine, which also has a relaxing effect and reduces anxiety. Activities that require full concentration from both our mind and body are great stress relievers,” he says.
- Try The Five Senses Technique.
The five senses technique is commonly used when people are on the verge of a panic attack, but it’s good for any overall stress, says Dr. Sarah Cohen, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. “Notice five things you can see, notice four things you can feel, notice three things you can hear, notice two things you can smell and notice one thing you can taste. Then a few more deep breaths, a quick stretch, and you should be ready to open the door.”
- Get Five Minutes of Sun
Not so much an exercise so much as a chance to step away and engage in present-oriented thinking, stepping out into the sun on your front doorstep, in a window or in your backyard can help boost your mood, says Christopher Taylor, Ph.D, LPC-S. “The sun is a great source of vitamin D and there are many studies that show how this can help improve our attitude and mood. If you have been inside all day, take a quick walk, go sit in your back yard or just stand outside in the fresh air. Five minutes of blue skies can do your mind and your heart some real good.”
- Have a Good Cry
Seriously. “Crying releases chemicals as well as tears and can help release stress and tension,” says Dr. Sandra Thebaud, a psychologist and former Navy Lieutenant Commander. “Unless it’s unsafe to cry, holding back tears supports the stress response.” So, walk into a room. Cry for five minutes. Take a few deep breaths and return to work.
- Fill Your Bag
Filling your bag doesn’t literally mean filling a bag with items. It’s a way to identify the good in each day, says Cara Maksimow, LCSW. “Imagine you have a bag that collects fear, negativity and worry and you empty it out and then refill it with three things. B: The best and brightest part of today, A: what you accomplished today and G: what you’re truly grateful for.” This can help you put your day in perspective, and remember the good parts of the day.
- Massage Yourself
Traditional massages from a service are, right now, off the table.. But luckily, you can massage yourself, says Jamie Pfeffer, a meditation and life balancing coach. It works like this: Go to a quiet place. Begin by rubbing your hands together for 15 seconds. This will get them warmed up, and it will also start loosening up tight muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms. Next, take your right hand and place it on your left shoulder. Squeeze gently 3-4 times, rubbing a few inches down the arm and then moving up to the area between the neck and shoulder. Press down gently on the muscle across your shoulder. Then, cup your hand and massage your neck. When you are finished, use your left hand to do the same exercises on the right side of your body.Once you have completed that, take both hands and cup them over their respective shoulders. Apply light pressure and gentle squeeze and release motions for 30 seconds to one minute. Once you are complete with that, take the fingertips of your second and third fingers and gently rub them in a circular motion on your temples for 10 seconds. Finally, squeeze your eyes shut along with all the muscles in your face. Hold it for five seconds, and then release for five. seconds. Repeat twice. Finally, tighten the muscles in your whole body at the same time and hold it for five seconds, and then release.”
- Do A Downward Dog.
This beginner yoga position is a fantastic stress reliever, says Stacy Caprio, a life coach. Downward dog is simply bending over so both your hands are on the ground in front of you, and your feet are also on the ground behind you, so your body looks like a triangle on the ground. Once in this position, you can allow your body to move and stretch as well as your back to relax into a shoulder stretch and practice deep breathing. “This is a great position to relieve stress and tension and become more relaxed,” says Capario, “whether you only hold it for a few seconds or minutes.”
- Squeeze Your Whole Body Tight.
One way to immediately alleviate the physical markers of stress is to tighten up every muscle in your body: ball your hands into tight fists, squeeze your eyes shut, feel your bodies curl up into a ball, and release, says Sarah Roffe, LCSW, psychotherapist and co-founder of Kind Minds Therap. This technique works just as well for kids as it does for adults, per Roffe.