It’s time for a five-minute micro-intervention
If we’re stressed, we often assume we need a good chunk of time to unwind. A week away, perhaps; or at least an hour in lotus position.
Now new research shows a mere five minutes can do the trick.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in July this year, the research involved 27 healthy young men.
Each participant engaged in a daily five-minute ‘micro-intervention’ for the duration of the almost two-week study.
The participants were assigned to varying types of ‘micro-interventions’.
These included recalling emotional experiences, playing with facial gestures (mimicking different feelings) and repeating short sentences to themselves.
A further group watched a video on their smartphones, based on psychotherapeutic approaches such as mindfulness, transcendental meditation and other contemplative therapies.
The group who watched the videos reported feeling improved mood, more awake and calmer afterwards. Their overall mood also improved by the end of the study.
Clinical Psychologist Kirstin Bouse is a big believer in micro-interventions.
She says we can feel more grounded and improve our mood, attention and concentration levels in a “bite-sized chunk” of time.
Of course, this goes against most people’s ideas about relaxation.
After all, Bouse says, we tend to think five minutes is ‘too short’ to effectively relax.
Because of this, we spend our spare snippets of time zoning out, doing things like scrolling through social media or flicking through channels on TV.
While we spend our spare time zoning out, we’re also unwilling to dedicate longer periods of time to de-stressing. (Bouse says even the thought of needing to devote an hour to such pursuits “overwhelms” us.)
The result? We end up forgoing relaxing activities altogether, meaning our stress levels just keep rising.
Instead of using our spare time to zone out, Bouse recommends zoning in. She says the key isn’t how much time we have, but the activity we choose.
Here are her recommendations for a five-minute micro-intervention:
Bouse recommends doing five minutes of deep diaphragmatic breathing every time you visit the loo.
She says people find this suggestion “very amusing” at first. But linking deep breathing with an established activity – like visiting the bathroom – prompts us to remember it.
Plus, she says, you’re bound to go to the bathroom throughout the day, giving you guaranteed opportunities to de-stress.
It might sound corny, but spending five minutes appreciating what we have can be incredibly calming, says Bouse.
She says there are lots of ways to do this.
You could think about your accomplishments, or concentrate on the people who love you. Alternatively, you could wade through happy memories, and get caught up in remembered joy.
The important part is to absorb the positive feelings associated with such thoughts.
Spending time in nature is a great way to unwind as it “activates the parts of your brain that manage mood, emotions and feelings of love,” says Bouse.
New research, published online in Scientific Reports in June this year, showed that people who visit parks for 30 minutes or more a week are also less likely to have high blood pressure or poor mental health.
Bouse says even five minutes outdoors can have a positive effect – depending on how you spend that time. If you’re chatting on your phone for that time, Bouse warns not to expect any rewards.
“But standing outside, breathing in the fresh air, admiring nature and just absorbing how good it feels to be doing that – well, that’s what makes it effective.”
You could have a cup of tea, luxuriate in a warm bath or simply sit and breathe – it’s not about what you do, but how you do it. Engage your five senses and pay attention to how your body feels in its surroundings.
One of the main perks of mindfulness is just taking the time to stop, says Bouse. “In this busy, busy world we live in, anything that causes us to [do that] is a good thing.”
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