Here are the pause-and-reset strategies that contributor Jenna Birch will be deploying through this grind we call the holidays…
As a super-powered wellness advocate, I know how important it is to catch my Zzz’s, turn off from social media, and recharge my brain. I plan work sabbaticals where needed, take coastal drives, dive into (insert genre here) Netflix binges, and stick to a regular bedtime.
That said, I’ve been finding it more challenging to unwind these days. Part of this, I’m sure, arises from a deep-seated pressure to be “on.” In touch with friends. On social media. Available via text. Engaged with news, 24/7 news. Moving, but not always mindfully.
Being a modern global citizen and managing an ever-present feeling of exhaustion feel synonymous these days — even though they shouldn’t. It takes just a few minutes to pause and reset yourself, whether you’re at the airport waiting for your flight or just got out of an intense meeting with your boss.
Here are the strategies I’ll be deploying as we enter the grind of the holiday season, and into 2020 — and they only take a few minutes to pull off.
Practice guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.
When to do it: Before bed, in your desk chair, after a stressful talk
Meditation is a great way to pull yourself out of regret (living in the past) or anxiety (living in the future), and center yourself in the present moment. Mindful meditation is simple. Focus on your breath, the noises around you, the silence, your thoughts — without judgement — and the sensations you feel across your body. The most important thing you can do during meditation is to focus on deep breathing and staying rooted in the present. Chances are, you won’t be perfect at it. If your mind wanders back to your stressor, stop. Let go. Observe it without judging it. And then gently shift your mind back to your breath and your body. Do this for five minutes (or more, if you’re on a roll!).
Another great way to detach and unwind is to let go of the tension within your body — which you are holding all day, without realizing it, as you deal with stressor after stressor. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method of relieving tension, muscle group by muscle group, as you clench and relax your body from head-to-toe — tightening your fingers, and then letting go, extending arms, and then relaxing them, etc. Here’s a great guide for getting started. If you want an easy way to access this method on the go, try Headspace’s 3-minute program for relieving stiffness.
Take short, scenic walks.
When to do it: At lunch, after work, as you take a phone call
Research consistently shows us two things — movement is a critical way to relax, and nature is a means by which we can enhance such relaxation. It may feel counterintuitive, since resting and couch-potato behavior often go hand-in-hand, but movement is one of the best ways to unwind. It centers your focus outside of work and interpersonal stress, focusing just on the body. Science has shown that you can improve your mood, reduce your anxiety and increase your energy level by gettin’ on and gettin’ going. Although we may consider jogging or fitness classes the sort of exercise that gets “results,” research is clear: Walking is highly beneficial for physical health, longevity and mental well-being. Even just 10 minutes of stepping at a time can help you feel revived.
On top of that, get out in nature, which science says can make you feel more energized and alive. Yes. Everyone loves a good, scenic walk in spring or autumn, as the buds bloom or the leaves fall. But I love walking in big boots through a winter snowfall, focusing on the crunch of ice or the sounds of silence you just don’t get in the summer.
Write in a journal, color or make lists.
When to do it: When you wake up, after work, on the train, before bed
There’s something wonderful about old-fashioned writing. I love sailing a ballpoint pen’s smooth ink along crisp, clean paper. It takes me back to childhood, when it was the lone way I organized my thoughts and expressed myself. If you want to feel soothed, I cannot recommend this throwback enough. Write a poem, or recap your day in a journal — just like the ones you used in middle school. Adult coloring books are also an amazing way to reset and focus on clean strokes and staying inside the lines instead of whatever is causing you stress.
I am also a big fan of lists, whether you use written to-do lists with gorgeous designs or the notepad on your phone. It’s a good way to feel like you’ve got your life in order (even if it’s definitely a work in progress). Psychologist Dr. David Cohen thinks the storied to-do list so cathartic for a few key reasons: they allow us to feel like we’re organizing the chaos in our lives, they provide us a structured plan of action, and they lend a sense of achievement as we tick off the boxes. For the record, I couldn’t agree more.
Snack on the right stuff.
When to do it: Mid-morning, mid-afternoon, before bed
It’s really common to feel hungry when you’re stressed. Yes, take a break and have a snack if you need a brain booster (+ adequate hydration, of course), but also make sure to snack on something of substance. There are certain foods that are proven tension relievers. Don’t OD on sugar or caffeine, which may increase anxiety. Instead, complex carbs like oatmeal and whole-wheat toast help to stabilize your blood sugar and keep your energy high.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish, nuts, seeds and avocados have been shown to be protective against stress, while the magnesium in leafy greens like spinach, beans, and seeds can also counter the effects of fatigue. And while you don’t want to consume too much of dark chocolate, the flavonoids in your favorite sweet treat can lower your stress, boost your mood and improve cognitive function according to some research. So, in conclusion… that five-minute choco-break might very well be just what you need to get through the afternoon meeting. Go for it.
Jenna Birch is a freelance journalist, author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love, and lifestyle expert. Her weekly relationship advice column, PureWow’s ‘Between the Sheets,’ runs every Tuesday. Her work appears in Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Bustle, Well + Good, Man Repeller, The Washington Post, and more. She is a huge personality-typing nerd, yogi and advocate for chronic pain awareness. She lives for researching and reporting on relationships, mental health, wellness, psychology and happiness, mapping how these subjects intertwine with each person’s unique story.