The pandemic has made it seem impossible to take a step back and take care of yourself. However, making self-care a priority is not only necessary but also pretty much crucial for optimal health.
“It’s important to take time off work and other responsibilities to pause, reflect and refresh, even if it’s just for five minutes. By taking these small self-care breaks, you’ll notice improvements in your mood, concentration, efficiency and more,” said Jessica Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
COVID-19 upended our routines and decreased social contact for more than a year –– and we’re still experiencing the stress and trauma of it. As we navigate our new normal, it’s important to adopt more healthful habits that will boost our physical and mental well-being.
We asked mental health professionals to share five-minute self-care practices that are easy and accessible. Here’s what they had to say:
Lighten your mental load.
It may feel overwhelming when there are too many things piled up in your mind.
“Spend five minutes thinking about what you can take off your brain’s plate today, or even this week. Can you postpone thinking about a decision on school plans for a few days? Can you hold off on mentally planning this weekend until tomorrow?” said Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “The more you can lighten your mental load, the more freedom you will feel to be present in the here and now without extra thoughts weighing you down.”
Try a breathing exercise.
Deep breathing is a simple habit that helps cultivate mindfulness, aka the practice of being present. Mindfulness can help quiet your busy mind, improve your mood and reduce any tension you may be experiencing.
There are many breathing exercises you can do in five minutes or less, such as box breathing (inhaling for four seconds, holding the breath, then exhaling for four seconds) or diaphragmatic breathing (which involves taking a deep breath into your stomach, fully engaging your abdominals).
“If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. It’s something you can do anytime and anywhere, like during a meeting or phone call,” Gold said.
Play your favorite song.
“Hit the play button to hear a song that uplifts your mood and positively energizes you,” said Meaghan Rice, a licensed clinical psychologist at Talkspace.
If there’s more than one song that makes you feel better, create a “self-care” playlist with all your favorite music. Tune into that playlist for five minutes and dance with the melodies. The added movement will release endorphins, which increase happiness.
Start a journal.
Carve out five minutes for self-reflection by recording your thoughts in a journal. This practice will help you relax and increase your awareness.
“Bring your journal to the office or school, and spend some time each day writing down how you’re feeling. There are also many different journaling apps online with prompts and activities to help you reflect,” Gold said.
Read a chapter of a compendium book.
A compendium book is a collection of information pertaining to a specific topic. These books have fairly short chapters that can be read within a few minutes.
“Spend five minutes reading a short story or chapter in a compendium book. Even if it’s short, you’ll feel stimulated and will embrace the joy of learning something new on a topic you love,” said Chandan Khandai, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Go for a walk.
Physical activity can do wonders for your mental health. Though you may not have time for a whole workout routine, you can go for a walk in five minutes or less.
“Take a short walk outside or in a hallway to get some mindful movement in your day. It will make you feel at ease and also stimulate your thinking,” Gold said.
Make a “gratitude” list.
If negative thoughts are weighing you down, take some time to focus on what you’re grateful for. This can feel soothing as it promotes happiness and appreciation for what you’ve already got going on.
“In five minutes, create a gratitude list of a couple things you are grateful for. This will instantly improve your mood when you feel deflated,” Rice said.
Not firing on all cylinders? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t let your inner voice criticize and judge you. Practice self-compassion and be gentle on yourself.
“Take a pause to just check in on yourself and validate how you’re feeling. Even if it’s just for five minutes, engaging in kind self-talk can make a positive difference in your overall well-being,” Gold said.