24 September 2017Last updated

Features | People

How to relax in five minutes

Sniffing some freshly brewed coffee, phoning a friend back home, petting your pooch or treating yourself to some chocolate are just a few ways to recharge your batteries. Colin Drury lists 20 simple ways to de-stress in a jiffy

Colin Drury
7 Oct 2016 | 12:00 am
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There’s a saying among some people that if you live in Dubai and you’re not stressed, you’re not doing it right.

This is a city that thrives on pressure, ambition and drive. And while such energy and aspiration is no bad thing, it does mean that many of us are increasingly leading lives that don’t come with a pause button.

Between high-level work commitments, hectic social lives and big city business, many people feel they simply never get the opportunity to – deep breath – chill.

‘We have,’ says Carmen Benton, managing director at LifeWorks personal development training centre in Umm Suqeim, ‘forgotten how to relax.’

And that’s not good. Being constantly stressed means risking a range of potential health issues including heart problems, high blood pressure, muscle pain, headaches, sleeping difficulties and even obesity.

So, what’s the solution? How can we unwind when we don’t necessarily have the time for 40 minutes of daily yoga or the disposable income for a beach retreat every couple of weeks?

The answer, say experts, lies in taking things back to basics. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that just five minutes – a measly 300 seconds – spent chillaxing every few hours has a huge impact on reducing anxiety, depression and general negativity. Think of it like a pressure valve: the brief pause to calm down at certain points in the day releases the stress built up.

But what can you possibly do in such a short space of time to truly relax? Quite a lot, it seems.

And so Friday brings you 20 super-quick, sure-fire ways to unwind wherever you are – in less time than it will take you to 
read this article…

1 Walk round the block

Not always easy in the searing summer temps of the UAE, but if we can manage a quick five-minute wander, the benefits are huge. Repeated studies have shown a brisk stroll can have the same calming effect as a mind tranquilliser by stimulating the nerve cells that relax our senses. If possible head for a green space, as plant life has been shown to have a meditative effect on the brain.

2 Smell the coffee

Coffee is regularly referenced as the one thing NOT to drink if you’re feeling tense – and that’s true. Too much caffeine will increase blood pressure and heart rate, leading to feelings of anxiety. But smelling it? Excellent relaxation technique, it seems. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee has an antioxidant effect on our brain cells, giving us a boost of cheerfulness.

3 Be kind

From doing a favour for a friend to booking afternoon tea with an elderly neighbour, an act of kindness is one of the best things we can do to boost happiness hormone serotonin. And boosted serotonin means reduced stress. ‘Next time you’re feeling anxious at work, take a moment to do something nice for a colleague – it will help you feel energised,’ is the advice of Ghada Zakaria, professional development coach with Authenticity Coaching in Al Barsha.

4 Phone a friend back home

Spending five minutes talking and listening to someone you cherish but perhaps don’t see enough provides a complete mental break from what you have going on. A top tip: at the end of the call, suggest a time when you can meet up in person. The pleasure of anticipation is one 
of the best combatants of depression and negative feelings.

5 Do a puzzle

Puzzles, like games, are inherently pointless. You solve them, and then you don’t think about it again. But spending five minutes on a crossword or Sudoku provides, like phoning a friend, a complete break that, once completed, leaves you ready to attack the day again. An added benefit here too: puzzles have been shown to improve brain power and reduce the chance of conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

6 Clear some space

If your desk/bedroom/kitchen looks like a bomb hit it, you’ll never be able 
to truly relax. The old saying that tidy space means tidy mind really does hold truth, psychologists reckon. So spend a few minutes having a tidy of your personal environment. You might be surprised how much it lightens your mood.

7 Breathe right

When it comes to keeping calm, we don’t all breathe our best. Instead of inhaling from high in your lungs as we tend to do naturally, make a conscious effort, when you have five minutes spare, to sit and breathe from the depths of your belly. Recommended is counting to eight while 
you take air in, holding for four, and then releasing, again counting to eight. The aim is to get more oxygen to our blood, which serves as a natural de-stresser.

8 Meditate

The sequel to breathing right is a mini meditation session. And that doesn’t mean retreating to a mountaintop and sitting cross-legged. Evidence from the University of Sydney in Australia suggests just two quick bouts a day will significantly reduce stress. All it takes is finding a quiet spot – an unused meeting room or a park bench, perhaps – then breathing and allowing your thoughts to clear completely from your mind.

9 Cuddle someone

Sharing a moment of affection releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin and sends it flooding around your brain. As if that’s not enough, the same hormone also helps boost the body’s immune system – so hugs are good for keeping you fit as well.

10 Stretch

It’s so stupidly simple that many of us never even think about it in terms of de-stressing. But standing up for a good stretch – arms, back, shoulders, legs – relieves muscle tension, sucks more oxygen into the body and opens up our circulatory system. All of which will ensure a moment of unwinding.

11 Massage your hands…

Lots of us swear by the rejuvenating effects of a good rub down at one of Dubai’s many spas. But, if you don’t have the time to always get there, consider a DIY hand massage. Really. Apply some luxurious lotion and knead the base of the muscle under the thumb, slowly moving to the palm and along each finger. The sensation reduces heart rate and blood pressure.

12 ...or your pooch

The effects of a good squeeze aren’t just limited to humans. Several studies over the past several decades have found that stroking and playing with pets for just five minutes leaves owners feeling more relaxed and optimistic.

13 ...or your feet

It’s not quite so easy to surreptitiously soothe your tuts as your hands, perhaps. But it can be done – using a golf ball. Masseuses swear by the invigorating effects of rolling your feet back and forth over such a dimpled roller.

14 Journal it

Taking a few moments every day to write down our feelings and emotions is, according to life coaches like Ghada, one of the best ways to, firstly, confront negative sensations and, secondly, manage them. ‘Make a note of the issues that may cause you stress and they suddenly seem less intimidating,’ she says.

15 Listen to your favourite song

The restorative effects of music are many and well-documented. Hearing a piece we love can reduce blood pressure, improve motivation, boost cognitive performance and even ease physical pain. In short, listening to a song is basically like taking a dose of physical and mental positivity.

16 Laugh

They don’t say laughter is the best medicine for no reason. A burst of giggles boosts that happiness hormone serotonin, increases blood flow, makes us more likely to be productive and generates feelings of optimism. Which is perhaps why a couple of minutes chuckling has been described as a spray-clean for tension. Go on – have a chortle.

17 Plan a holiday

Be it a weekend in Muscat, a month exploring South East Asia or a week of culture in Europe, just generating ideas for a break away from the usual routine provides an instant pick-me-up. And then the excitement of looking forward to it will help combat depression through the rest of the year.

18 Colour, knit, tinker

Any inherently simple yet creative pastime that can be enjoyed on autopilot works wonders at helping the mind wander and offering a brief escape from day-to-day hassles. Chief among such activities might be colouring, knitting or playing a musical instrument – all of the above have been documented as clearing the mind of current concerns.

19 Treat yourself to chocolate

The best news ever? Chocolate is not only delicious but also has mental health benefits. A couple of squares of the sweet stuff can calm your nerves by stabilising the metabolism and regulating stress hormone cortisol. The extra cocoa in dark chocolate is particularly beneficial.

20 Pay attention

You don’t have to be in a garden or out in the desert to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings. A kitchen, a city street or even an office will do. The point is to take a moment and thoroughly regard – observe, smell, hear – your surroundings. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve never noticed – and how restorative such stillness is.

Colin Drury

Colin Drury