My in-laws, who cooked and cleaned for five boys and untold friends and neighbors who would magically stop by 10 minutes before dinner, have a theory about cleaning the kitchen: Do what you can while you can. Meaning, one person doesn’t have to go in to the kitchen, begin cleaning, and stay in there until it’s spic-and-span. Rather, you go in, do your best, and don’t stress about any pans that are left to soak overnight. After all, there will be plenty of opportunities to do dishes tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong, their kitchen is always clean and orderly. But it’s not because of their dogged devotion to perfection. They do a little bit here, a little bit there, and leave the rest for a better time.
Which is exactly how you should approach stress reduction during those extra-crazy-busy-exhausting times.
Believe me, I know how tempting it is to think, “I don’t have time for a yoga class, I’ll just have a glass of wine with dinner tonight.” Or, “My mind is racing way too much to meditate for 20 minutes, pass the chips.” It’s a classic all-or-nothing mode of thinking: If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do anything.
But even small bits of deep breathing, stretching, meditating, or visualizing can help keep the needle on your wellbeing meter from plummeting. Because stress follows the same principle of inertia—a stress level that’s spiking will continue to rise unless acted upon by an outside force. A few deep belly breaths unlocks the diaphragm, which cues the body that danger has passed and triggers the relaxation response. Five minutes of stretching reduces muscular tension and increases circulation and the flow of lymph, which help the immune system function better. Three minutes envisioning yourself in your ideal, tranquil spot (mine is a beach in Mexico—the classic Corona commercial) helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which rules the “rest and digest” functions of the body.
Ten minutes are better than five, and three minutes are better than two, but anything is better than nothing. Anything.
What can you commit to doing in the next hour? Tell me about it by leaving a comment.
And now, I’m off to stretch for five minutes!
Take care and keep breathing,
P.S. – If you’d like a slew of specific practices you can do in mere minutes, consider my book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide—77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. It’s cute, cheap (only $10 a copy on my site), and wildly effective!
What REALLY Stresses You Out?
(Full Disclosure—This Is a Plug for a Company I Think Is Cool and Am Partnering With)
You know when your kid starts whining, your inbox avalanches, or your car gets a flat that your stress levels spike. But it’s the events you don’t realize are sending you in to the red zone that are chipping away at your wellbeing on a day-to-day basis.
To bring clarity to the murky waters that surround our emotional states, the folks at MeQuilibrium, a cool, brand-new, stress management coaching program (think Weight Watchers for stress junkies) have created a simple Stress Tracker. It’s an easy way for you to monitor what your stress level is on any given day and helps you determine what your triggers are. Over time, it becomes a powerful stress management tool. Because, after all, you can only change the habits you know you have.
If you’re intrigued, here is the link to try the Stress Tracker for yourself. The tool is free, but you do have to create an account. (It took me about 10 seconds to create mine.)
As an added bonus, you can also get my take on some of the less heralded, more surprising benefits of reducing your stress levels that I wrote as a guest on the MeQuilibrium blog.