How to recharge in 3 minutes or less when stressed

November 17, 2015

Our work and personal lives often overwhelm us:  We have packed calendars, to-do lists, suffer from the fear of missing out, our screen time continues to rise and rise, we have goals, objectives, plans, we mustn’t let anyone down, we must cram one more thing in during lunch… and we wonder why we’re anxious, irritable, have short attention spans, and exhausted and unhappy with our lives.  


(Just writing that raised my blood pressure a few points, I think.)


Our bodies and minds scream out for a break, and we often keep going, until we break.


We often don’t stop because we think we “don’t have time”.  Let’s remember time is an illusion, a construct, and, we don’t “manage” time, we manage ourselves.  We often don’t take the time to destress because so many of us think if we don’t have a significant block of time for exercise, meditation, a nap, a cup of tea, it’s not possible, or worth it, and must… keep… going…


It is possible, it is worth it, and you can recharge in a matter of a few seconds to a few minutes.  And, by stopping to recharge for short amounts of time routinely during our day, these mini-breaks end up energizing us, keeping us healthier and happier, and giving us the feeling of having more time in the day as a result.  There is a lot of research going back many years proving this to be true (doing a quick search I found articles from the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Stanford U’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, to name a few).  


Brief Activities for Destressing Quickly and Effectively:

1.  My hands-down favorite:  The 3 Breaths.  Take about 30-90 seconds and do the following breath sequence slowly, three times:  

  • Inhale deeply through the nose, as big a breath as you can.
  • Hold it for as long as you can.
  • Exhale slowly and steadily through the mouth.
  • Hold the ‘empty’ breath for as long as you can.
  • Repeat.  

Preferably do this with eyes closed, although you certainly can do this while doing a variety of activities with eyes open.  If you literally don’t have time for three, do just one.  Even that helps  clear your mind and helps you refocus. Both help oxygenate your body, increase your blood flow, and pause a racing mind.  If you can do more than three, go for it.  You will feel even better.  A friend was talking about how packed and long his day was (14 hours), and I asked him how he was going to decompress, knowing he regularly uses his hot tub.  He quickly said The 3 Breaths.  I had shared that with him in passing several weeks before, and it has already stuck as his go-to when he is really needing to rejuvenate or wind down.  This is a busy dad and business owner, with many obligations and many resources to destress, and he experienced the profound simplicity of this activity as what makes a big difference for him.


2. Pause:  This is also a favorite I use with my coaching clients all the time.  Our minds process thousands upon thousands of bits of information every minute, and many people complain of racing thoughts, fears and worries that gallop away until they really are in a state of complete overwhelm, where nothing gets done, mistakes happen, and our confidence reduces to nothing.  


Finding ways to push our own Pause Button during the day, and especially during times when we notice we can’t think straight because so much is going on, is critical to allowing ourselves the time and space and capacity to accomplish what we really want or need to.  We can’t do it all at once, and similarly, we can’t think it all at once.  Stopping to deliberately give our minds a break, take a fresh look at the work ahead and what is really important for us to do in the next minute, hour, whatever time frame, helps us re-calibrate and choose our next right action deliberately, which is hugely empowering and energizing.  A to-do list or schedule for the day isn’t set in stone:  Pause, and reconfigure based on your body needs and energy stores, what you realize can wait until tomorrow, what you would feel best getting done with the remaining time you have left in your day, etc.  


Our minds work hard all day, and actively choosing stillness and quiet for even a 10 second pause can shift our day in wildly positive ways.  It allows time for new thoughts to come in, problem solving can occur, it helps creativity, it helps us remember we have a body (and not just a very busy brain), it even helps us remember we have friends and family (yes, really) and why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Reconnecting to ourselves through conscious pauses is hugely decompressing and energizing, motivating and healthy for us in mind, body and spirit.


3.  Stretch your body: Even a few seconds of stretching whatever part of your body is most tense will help you recharge, increasing oxygen and blood flow.  If you hunch over a computer or desk all day, stop, pull your shoulders back as far as you can, and hold.  Do this frequently.  Stretch your neck in every direction.  Set a timer or your Pomodoro app and do this hourly.  If you’re in a meeting, stretch your ankles and feet under the table; even this will help you to refocus on the needs of your body and mind.  Routinely doing this helps reduce stiffness, poor circulation, lethargy, and more.  I used to think if I couldn’t stretch for 30 minutes at a time it wasn’t really helping me.  I’m so glad I proved myself wrong.  


4.  Rest and exercise your eyes:  As we have become a culture glued to screens for long periods of time, our eyes are taking the toll.  We blink less, we move them less, we stare at something a foot or so away from us for long periods which is not good for our eyes or vision.  

  • Every 20 minutes or so, stop, blink several times, and then look up and out as far as you can, preferably out a window several hundred feet or more, and focus on something the farthest away from you for at least 30 seconds.  
  • Looking out at nature and natural light is even more ideal.  It will help reduce eye strain and relax your eye muscles, much needed for good eye health.
  • Here is a wonderful list of eye activities from Medicine Net to experiment with.  


5.  Move your body:  If you’ve been sitting for an hour straight, get up and walk, stretch, dance, climb stairs, do tai chi, play with your kids or dog, whatever activity is possible and enjoyable.  As little as one minute helps, and more helps even more.  Frequently adding this into days has a tremendous effect on our health and mindset.  


Our bodies were designed for movement, not this 21st century sedentary lifestyle.  Regular physical activity of any sort, especially for desk-bound people, is critical for our health and wellbeing.  


Put it on your calendar, your to-do list, a sticky note on the mirror, whatever system you have for getting things done.  One really helpful productivity hack to add to that is to put down an amount of time next to the item on your list or online calendar:  Writing down “stretch for 5 minutes” is much more likely to be motivating and actually be accomplished than just writing “stretch”.  


I did a seminar for reducing stress in the workplace, and a group of four colleagues set a recurring appointment to take a 15 minute walk together once a week.  Four months later, they are still doing it, and report how much it makes them enjoy the day and feel more energized, along with it being nice to connect with friends more routinely, that even the short time has made a difference for them.


The benefits


Beyond what has already been described, when we make our self-care conscious, deliberate and built into our days to keep stress levels down, our days expand, we are less spent at the end of the day, we stay connected to our values, our minds, bodies, and hearts, which allows more time for connection with others and what we really want to spend our time on.  Pick one, try it out for a full day, pick another the next day, and so forth, until you find the right mix and amount of time to devote to this new self-care practice, and watch your health, wellbeing, and world transform.


PS:  Bonus Tip:  The photo above is of a glorious sunrise of Mt. Hood, Oregon.   Print out some of your favorite nature photos to have near you during your work day, let your eyes wander to them, let them rest there and focus on that memory, go to that place in your mind and consciously relax and feel yourself there in that moment.  Repeat frequently during the day. 


Find me at, and on Facebook, Lauren Oujiri Coaching


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