Five minutes is a deceptive unit of time.
On one hand, it doesn’t seem like enough time to really do anything. And yet, five minutes can also feel like an eternity (think: stalled elevators, awkward conversations).
The fact is, when used the right way, a five-minute moment can shift your mood dramatically—and become the difference between a more defeated or more resilient you.
Here are our nine favorite ways to take five:
1. Write down three great things that happened today. Grab a piece of paper, a notebook, or your phone (check out our Write Down 3 Great Things activity) and jot down three things that you’re grateful for or happy about. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing; in fact, it can be quite simple (dinner plans, a phone call from a friend, positive feedback at work, nice weather). The research shows that doing this simple act turns your attention toward the positive—and if you do it enough, you’ll start to do it automatically.
2. Switch up the scenery. Chances are you spend most of your day in the same spot, facing the same direction. For five minutes, get up and move—go somewhere, anywhere different. Ideally, this will involve going outside, stretching your legs for a bit, and getting some fresh air. Changing your view can help you change your perspective.
3. Take five to tune in. Most of us spend the day in our heads, but bringing awareness to our body and surroundings can provide a much needed break, says meQuilibrium’s mindfulness expert Katherine McHugh. Try it: Sit comfortably in a chair and take note of the way your body feels, the sights and sounds of the world around you, the thoughts that pop up in your mind. This is, essentially, a first step toward mindfulness meditation. “If you do this a few times a day, you’ll really start to like it,” she says. “What’s more, you’ll be able to re-engage with your work in a more focused, refreshed way.”
4. Clear your desk. Sometimes you need a clean slate, especially in the afternoon when energy lags. Try clearing everything off your desk, wiping it down, and then only adding back what you’re currently working on. The physical act of clearing space does wonders for the mind and can minimize distraction while boosting focus.
5. Savor something good. It’s easy to stew over the bad things. But when’s the last time you reflected on a good memory? In her book Stress Less: Mindfulness Exercises for Calmness and Clarity, mind-body expert Kate Hanley writes that it helps to steep your brain in warm memories. “Sit quietly and call up a happy moment,” she says. “Relive that memory in the greatest detail you can muster. It will help you appreciate the positive things you experience even more, which boosts gratitude and contentment.”
6. Do a brain dump. One of the reasons we tend to feel so distracted is that we’re trying to juggle too many balls at once. Rather than trying to keep them all up in the air, take five minutes to do a total brain dump and write down everything that has to be done today, tomorrow, and this week. Once it’s all captured and you can see it laid out in front of you, you’re less likely to let something slip through the cracks—and more able to focus on the task at hand.
7. Write a thank-you note. You know what you’re grateful for (if not, go back to tip #1!). But do others know when you’re grateful for them? Think of someone who has gone out of their way to make something possible for you. Write them a note (email is fine, but a card is even better) and let them know how much that gesture meant to you. Just the act of writing it out will give your mood a nice uptick.
8. Find something to laugh about. In the age of the Internet, you’re only a few clicks away from something hilariously funny. In a pinch, yes, a cat video will do. Even better? Sharing a joke or good story with someone, in person, right then and there. The energy that laughter creates between two people is invigorating and puts the worrisome stuff in perspective.
9. Read something inspiring. Note, we did not say “catch up on the headlines.” The news has its place, but for this five-minute mood booster, flip through a favorite book, read a poem, or indulge in a short story. Don’t underestimate the power of a finely written word or two to reset your mind and get your day back on track.
Terri Trespicio is a New York–based lifestyle writer. For nearly a decade, she served as a senior editor and radio host at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, XOJane, Marie Claire, Prevention, MindBodyGreen, and DailyWorth. Find her on Twitter @TerriT