Beat Holiday Stress in the 15 Minutes a Day You're Not Using

12/04/2013 08:34 am ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014

By Jan Bruce

You think you have no time -- to do anything really, especially this time of year -- but I'm going to push you on this one. Because while you don't have the whole afternoon off, you do have slivers of time that normally get squandered on any number of things, when you could and should be spending them on yourself! Here are a few quick things you can be doing to effectively reduce your negative stress response -- now, as reindeer hooves fast approach.

Breathe like this for five minutes.

Integrative phenom Andrew Weil, M.D., is the master of breathing exercises. I heard him say once that when people ask him what's one of the most important changes you can make to your life, he says, breathe. But not just any breathing. The kind of focused, intentional breathing that makes physiological changes in the body. He calls the breath a "natural tranquilizer."

If you're new to breathwork, one of the simplest things in the world is to set a timer for five minutes (first thing in the morning is great, but anywhere you can snag five minutes between calls or before you get out of your car), and pay attention to your breath. That's it. Put your hand on your belly and feel it slowly and gently fill and empty, over and over. When your mind wanders (and I said "when," not "if"), simply bring it back to your breath.

For an added challenge, try Weil's 4-7-8 breath, which he describes on his site this way:

Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

(More on this breathing exercise and others here.)

NOTE: Weil says if you're new to this, do no more than four of the 4-7-8 breaths in a row for a few weeks until you're acclimated, and then you can extend the exercise.

Spend five minutes on Youtube.

No, not kidding. It's not a waste of time. Think of it as a micro mood shifter. When I interviewed David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, for a story years ago, he said that one of the best ways to keep your energy and productivity up is to take a break to watch something funny. So it may be Youtube, rewatching your favorite SNL skits, or reading a humorous blog. Another idea: Follow some of your favorite writers and comedians on Twitter and spend a few minutes on your feed every few hours to get your fix. (By the way, here's one of my all-time favorite cat videos. I laugh every time.)

Move for five minutes.

The idea that you need to toil away on a treadmill for an hour to get worthwhile results is being overturned. In fact, you can get it all done in seven (intense, mildly uncomfortable) minutes with these basic exercises that use nothing but body weight, a chair, and a wall ("The Scientific Seven-Minute Workout").

This brief, powerful round of jumping jacks, pushups, crunches, lunges, and other drills puts the latest research into practice. According to the Times:

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

... See that? We just squeezed in three brief blocks that will do your mind, body, and spirit good. Do it every day from now through the new year (and beyond), and you're going to be better off than you think.

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