When we’re experiencing a busier-than-usual time, stress can spike. But you can help bring it down by adding simple, relaxing rituals to your day.
Small practices that instill calm provide multiple, pivotal benefits. “They support lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and better immune functioning,” says Karin Lawson, a licensed clinical psychologist who provides online and in-person services in Florida. “They also help with jaw clenching, grinding teeth, overall body tension, and muscular issues that can result from a prolonged tense state.”
Of course, when your day is jam-packed, putting another activity on your list might feel stressful too. But these brief, simple practices for different times of the day can fit easily into an already busy schedule. Pick one or practice all of them to bring more calm into your hectic life.
Do you feel stressed as soon as you open your eyes and think about your to-do list? Before your feet even touch the floor, pull out your phone to listen to a short morning meditation. According to research, regularly meditating literally changes the brain, reducing feelings of stress and increasing focus.
Keep a small journal on your bedside table, and soon after waking jot down a positive affirmation for the day. It can be as simple as, “Today, I choose calm,” “I am relaxed,” or “One step at a time.” Repeat it to yourself several times. Rip out the page and take it with you to use as a reminder when stressful feelings arise.
Are mornings super hectic because you hit the snooze button 10 times, or perhaps you spend most of the morning wrangling your kids? If you simply can’t spare a minute, create a calming playlist with your favorite songs to listen to as you get ready. Studies show that listening to music helps reduce stress.
Unless you work nighttime hours, you’re probably at work around noon—which can mean being in the office, at the hospital, on a factory floor, inside a truck, at home. Wherever you are, you can instantly access calm by focusing on your breath, brain, and body.
To start, the simple act of shifting your breathing can immediately trigger your body’s relaxation response. For example, on a brief break, try 4-7-8 breathing by inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight.
Focusing on your hands, which tend to get a lot of use (and neglect), can also provide a soothing respite. For just a few minutes, use your right hand to apply moderate pressure to your left palm, fingers, and wrist. Then switch hands. Research has found that massage therapy may reduce anxiety and hand pain.
For a quick mental getaway, vividly imagine an experience you’ve had or would like to have, Lawson suggests. Start by thinking of an experience that relaxes you, such as being at the beach, visiting a botanical garden, or wandering in your favorite city. Set a timer for two minutes, close your eyes, and picture the sights, scents, and sounds that surround you. “We daydream frequently without even realizing it,” Lawson says. Why not make it especially soothing?
Winding down at night can be tough, particularly if you’ve had a demanding or not-so-great day. Create a calmer evening with gratitude. Expressing gratitude triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, hormones in the brain that boost happiness. To practice gratitude, simply ask yourself: What went well today? As Lawson notes, it doesn’t have to be monumental. Maybe, she says, your breakfast hit the spot, your plant grew a new sprout, or someone made you smile.
Meditation is also a powerful way to prime your brain and body for sleep. Try meQ’s 15-minute Deep Sleep Meditation, which combines gratitude with relaxation.
For a shorter practice, Lawson suggests belly breathing. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly, filling your belly while keeping your chest as still as possible. “Taking deep breaths signals the body that you’re safe and able to take yourself off high alert,” she says. “The relaxation of the body will support the calming of the mind.”