Self-care doesn’t need to be time-consuming. It just needs to get the job done! When your computer locks up, you restart it, and it works like new: this takes about 5 minutes. When a light bulb blows over your desk, you replace it: 5 minutes. And when your mind gets so cluttered that you lose your focus, you can choose one of the following exercises, and hit the “reset” button: 5 minutes. Just think of it as preventative maintenance.
Here are 5 exercises you can perform in 5 minutes. Just give them a try: you only have 5 minutes to lose. You could spend that long at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, or waiting for the copier to warm up.
1. Breathe! Breathing exercises are some of the most potent self-care techniques around. Deep breathing can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, moderate your blood sugar, and clear your brain of that insidious “mind-fog” that creeps in after a stressful morning or a sleepless night. If you’re not comfortable doing your breathwork at your desk, use the bathroom: you won’t have to explain what you’re doing to anyone, and there are fewer distractions. If you’re a parent, sometimes the bathroom is the only quiet haven in the house!
Here’s a great breathing exercise I learned from Michelle Morin, creator of The Core Alignment Practice®. She calls it “Misogi Breathing.” You can do this at your desk while at work, at home during a commercial break in your favorite show, or even in the morning before you sit down to breakfast. (If you get my newsletter, I also featured this exercise there.)
2. Stretch! If you suffer from low back pain like I do, you know that sitting behind a desk all day can be really painful. People with carpal tunnel, tendinitis, and other repetitive motion injuries will also benefit from stretching more often. So take a 5-minute self-care break. Reaching up toward the ceiling, and side to side, forward bending, gentle twisting, and wrist circles are all great for wringing tension out of your body and getting your blood moving. If you’re not sure what stretches would be best for your particular condition, a reputable massage therapist, yoga teacher, or other bodywork professional will be able to give you some advice.
3. Kick up the Cardio! My friend Holly Kuovo, co-facilitator of my new “Coaching Your Mind to Fitness” tele-class, gave me this tip for getting in my daily dose of cardio while giving my mind a rest. She calls them “Cardio Breaks.” Basically, when you’re watching TV, working at your computer, or doing something else that’s sedentary, take short five-minute breaks at intervals and hit the treadmill (or run in place, or do jumping jacks—anything to get your blood pumping). So while you’re watching your favorite crime drama, jump on the elliptical while the commercials are playing. You won’t be missing anything, and by the time your hour-long show is done, you’ll have finished 20-25 minutes of cardio. If you’re at the office, you might only have time for one or two breaks over the course of the day—but that’s more than enough to get your heart rate up and your stress level down.
4. Play your favorite song! Music can be many things, but among them it’s a tool to help us connect to our deeper selves, and our emotions. So if you’re feeling tense mid-day, put on your headphones, crank up your iPod, close your eyes, and listen to one single song. Yoga, New Age, and trance music are all great on a self-care break, since the steady rhythm and soft melodies are designed to relax you. Or, if you need some extra energy, put on your favorite pop song: you could even bob your head, or do a little dance. (This is another time where the bathroom might come in handy!) Any way you go about it, the objective is to slow down your thoughts and step outside your day for 5 minutes—just about the length of the average song. Trust me: when you come out of the bathroom after shaking it to Shakira for five minutes, the rest of your day won’t look so dire.
5. Take a Walk! If you work in an office, all that florescent lighting and re-circulated air can put a damper on your mood. And when you mood is low, your stress levels are high. So take a 5-minute walk. If possible, leave the building. Walk around the building, around the block, or around the parking lot for 5 minutes. This isn’t necessarily a “cardio break”— although it could certainly become that—but more of a “breathing break.” Take in deep breaths of fresh air, stretch your legs, and look up at the sky. Remember that the world still turns even when stress makes it feel like you’re standing still. When you head back inside, you’ll have a new, healthier perspective.
I had great feedback from all of you after my last article on self-care. I know that this is an important subject to many of you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on—and experiences with—these 5-minute self-care breaks.