How to Deal with Stress in 10 Minutes or Less

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Are you reading this while squinting? Jaw clenched? Shoulders up by your ears? Yep, you’re stressed all right. With today’s technology enabling us to be “on” all the time, stress runs rampant–and chronic stress can have a very negative effect on your physical health.

Here’s the good news: You can consciously influence your body’s reaction to stress, particularly when you’re aware of your stress triggers, by devoting just two minutes to stress relief throughout the day. Use each of these two-minute stress reduction techniques once a day and see how much better you feel.

1. Breathe

Research shows deep abdominal breathing triggers PNS activation. Simply sit quietly, relax your muscles, inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Focus on letting your abdomen rise with each inhalation and fall with each exhalation. Avoid raising your shoulders or breathing only in your chest. Two minutes of deep breathing can help reduce feelings of stress.

2. Mind Your Posture

Hunching over a keyboard all day strains your muscles and makes it hard to take a deep breath. Get the kinks out with two-minute desk yoga breaks. Here are a few poses to try:

  • Perform the sun pose by sitting with feet in a wide stance, then raise your arms fully overhead before slowly stretching your hands all the way to the floor.
  • Do a knee squeeze by sitting squarely on the seat of the chair, bending slightly forward, and squeezing your knee to your chest. Repeat for each leg.
  • Stand in mountain pose, with feet slightly apart and shoulders back while breathing deeply.

3. Visualize

This technique works very well with the mountain pose. Feel your feet connected to the earth and visualize a mountain. The mountain is strong and grounded and does not change with the weather. Or, if it feels right for you, visualize a calming locale such as a forest or an empty beach. Feel the warm sunshine on your skin and hear the wind or waves in your mental oasis. Creative visualization promotes a sensation of “groundedness” and helps deactivate your body’s stress response by removing “threats” from the mind’s eye.

4. Engage in Healthy Self-Talk

A recent study by the American Psychiatric Association showed that reframing anxiety-provoking situations (like public speaking) as opportunities rather than threats reduced stressful feelings in study participants. Specifically, saying, “I’m excited,” which has a positive association, instead of “Calm down,” which has a negative focus, is useful for reducing anxiety. You can perform self-talk in the morning and throughout the day. Say your positive affirmations aloud for the most benefit.

5. Perform Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This near-invisible technique can be accomplished without anyone else knowing you’re doing it. If you only have two minutes to spare, start by clenching and unclenching your hands. Then move to your feet or shoulders. If you have more time, start at your toes and work to flex and relax every muscle group from your feet to your face. This simple activity, done slowly and in conjunction with mindful breathing, can have a very salubrious effect on your physical being and state of mind.

Set an Intention for the Day

    To achieve success over stress, begin each day with a stated intention: For example, today, I will…

  • Take three stress breaks during the day
  • Make posture my focus for the day
  • Set an alarm to remind me when to engage in deep breathing
  • Assess my stress level each hour
  • Keep a log of my stress triggers

Even small goals can have a significant impact on your stress level. Don’t shoot for perfectionism, which will only cause you more stress. The last thing you want to do is stress out over stress reduction!

If you engage in two-minute stress relievers on a consistent basis and find they’re not working as well as you’d hoped, talk to your health care provider about other options, such as medication or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a short-term, issue-based type of counseling that can help you identify your triggers and develop new behaviors to cope with them. But even if you opt for additional interventions, don’t neglect your daily stress-busting routine. Great coping strategies always enhance other therapies.

How does stress affect your health? Read 5 Common Ailments Related to Stress and check out our Mental Health resource center.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.