Whether it's a tight deadline at work, planning a wedding, moving, challenges at home, or the upcoming holiday season, life can get pretty stressful. Between the busyness, overwhelm, and lack of sleep, that tension begins to take its toll: Inflammation rises, the immune system gets battered, emotions are rocky, belly fat may accumulate, and digestion starts to go awry.
These are the times we need our healthy habits the most and also when it's easiest to let them go. Since stress is an inevitability, here are eight ways to stay healthy — even when your life feels like it's coming apart at the seams — in eight minutes or less:
1. Take a break.
When the phone's buzzing, people are waiting, and things have to be done, the last thing you're thinking about is taking a break. But it's exactly what you need. Just a few moments of deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help calm your racing mind, reduce stress, and re-energize you.
If you can, think about your posture during this time, too. Good posture improves breathing, reduces stress, and sends your body the message of confidence, which helps you feel empowered.
2. Try EFT tapping.
EFT, short for Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as tapping, can help reduce stress, anxiety, and fearful thoughts in as little as two to three minutes.
EFT works by literally tapping into the energy system. It's both a physical and mental approach to regaining feelings of calm and control while using the phrase, "I completely love and accept myself." When you're focused in on your feelings, energy, and attitude, EFT can work really fast.
3. Optimize your workout.
Don't think you can get a workout done in less than eight minutes? Try Tabata-style high-intensity interval training: eight sets of 20 seconds of intense activity, each followed by 10 seconds rest. Repeat for one more round and you'll have a challenging workout in only eight minutes. For the intense activity, go all out: Try burpees, mountain climbers, or jumping rope.
Exercise is fundamental to staying healthy, vital, and energized — plus, it helps blow off steam and reduce inflammation.
4. Pause for a cup of tea.
A Japanese tea master Soshitsu Sen XV said, "A cup of tea is a cup of peace" (quoted by Kenneth S. Cohen). The whole process of preparing and sipping a cup of tea takes just a few minutes, but it's incredibly soothing.
Preparing and sipping a cup of tea has a sense of ritual. Just waiting for the water to heat, the tea to steep, and then the drink to cool back down again creates a sense of deliberation and intention. Embrace this moment. Let the taste clear racing thoughts, the meditative aspect invite calm, and the aroma encourage deeper breathing.
5. Chill out before you chow down.
When stress takes over, it's easy to overeat. Stress makes us crave sweets because they boost serotonin. Often we use food as a distraction from uncomfortable emotions. In the long run, opting for nourishing foods will help you better cope with stress, protect your digestive system, and minimize inflammation.
So, try this: Before reaching for a snack or heading to the drive-through, take a few minutes to check in with your body. Ask it what it really needs (probably not cookies or French fries); consider what food(s) would help you feel the way you want to feel — energized and confident, relaxed and peaceful, or something else.
Next, spend a bit longer thinking about how much food is necessary to create that feeling and be satisfied. Then, visualize yourself portioning out exactly how much you imagined. Finally, if your chosen food is ready, take a couple of deep breaths, inhale the aroma, and let your digestive system get a head start. It'll make everything go down easier.
6. Call a friend.
Human connection, laughter, and friendships are sources of joy, can reduce stress, be energizing and uplifting, increase happiness, and add perspective or meaning to difficult situations. Although you may hesitate to call a friend if your conversations normally go on for an hour, setting time expectations up front will make it a lot easier on both of you to keep it under eight minutes. If necessary, set an alarm. Then, let the conversation flow. Sometimes just talking about what's going on can make it seem a lot less overwhelming.
7. Keep up your self-care practices.
If you're anything like me, self-care is the first thing to go when you're stressed or excessively busy. But it's one of the best ways to improve immune function, protect digestion and hormonal balance, and reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm.
Here are some ideas if you don't already have your own self-care practices: Start a gratitude journal or try self-massage, regular meditation, or prayer. While it can take some effort and focus to turn these into habits, your body, mind, and spirit will thank you as life begins to seem much more manageable.
8. Take a walk outside.
Walking is a great way to move your body, clear your head, get a fresh perspective, and reclaim the confidence and patience you need in tough situations. A few minutes outdoors, ideally in nature, can help you feel renewed and refreshed. In fact, research suggests time in nature promotes both mental and physical health. Walking meetings, anyone?
It is totally possible to stop stress from taking over your life. In eight minutes or less, you can take major strides toward staying healthy and sane during life's most stressful periods. Why not start now?