Decompress in 5 Minutes by Asking Yourself These Questions

Learn how to decompress within five minutes by asking yourself these questions.

If you found this article, you’re probably feeling stressed out, busy, keen to reclaim your time, or all of the above. Go-to ways to decompress (such as going for drinks with a friend or going to the gym) can feel out of reach when you’re really swamped and busy — not to mention that many of these activities have been limited due to pandemic restrictions.

Luckily, the best advice I’ve ever gotten on how to decompress can be accomplished in small pockets of time throughout the day. The following two questions will help you to relax and refocus in just a few minutes. This advice came to me from a wellness workshop offered by my graduate school, but can be applied to anyone seeking more peace in their everyday life.

What can I do in five minutes that will reset me before my next task?

This question invites us to take five-minute breaks to stop and do something nourishing before moving on to the next task. That’s it. No big-deal spa day or vacation required to decompress — just five minutes to spend in the most rejuvenating way that you can think of at the moment.

Hearing this question completely changed the way I thought about decompression. I had always assumed that decompression was a time-consuming activity to blow off steam at the end of a stressful day. I had never thought to include moments of decompression throughout my day — that felt more like procrastination. I now realize that such breaks aren’t procrastination at all — research shows that five-minute breaks actually enable you to be more productive and efficient when you do return to work.

Five-minute breaks help me to show up with more presence-of-mind to the events and demands of my day. Small breaks help me with the many task transitions in my days, during which I work from home and switch frequently between my graduate school studies, freelance writing, and coaching client sessions. For me, five-minute breaks can take the form of breathing mindfully, coloring, getting up to stretch and walk around my house, or simply taking a moment to name what I just accomplished before moving on to the next item on my to-do list.

I also use breaks to set an intention for how to show up in the next task. For example, I like to take a few minutes before coaching client meetings to ensure I’m showing up present and focused as a coach. You could even think of the mini-break as a reward for accomplishing something.

What five-minute activity will make a broader change that lowers stress in my life?

The first question in this article helps you to relieve stress in the moment. To proactively address stress, you might like to consider what’s happening in your life that is causing a need for decompression. Once you’ve found some causes of your stress, use five minutes to take something stressful off of your plate.

Send a text to back out of an event to spend an evening on self-care; quit the school club you don’t actually enjoy; ask your kids or your spouse to take on a household chore that you would normally do. My version of this five-minute fix was choosing to drop an extra grad school elective that initially seemed like a good idea, but actually only added pressure to my busy schedule. In the five minutes that it took to unregister for that class, I’ve gained dozens of hours back in my life over the next semester. I also saved myself a lot of unnecessary stress.

Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of just cancelling the things that are creating stress. If this is your situation, see what you could do in five minutes to make your existing demands easier. Make an auto reply for your emails on busy days, or block out your calendar on Mondays so that you can enjoy a meeting-free start to your week. Deactivate your social media account. Order groceries online. Unsubscribe from some annoying email listservs. These are all important steps for creating a life that needs less decompression in the first place. 

No one can run on empty. Make sure you are filling your own energy tank, because nourishing yourself will help you to be more present for those around you.

Grotto quote graphic about how to decompress: "Decompress in 5 minutes by asking yourself these questions: What can I do in five minutes that will reset me before my next task? What five-minute activity will make a broader change that lowers stress in my life?"

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