Anyone can get bogged down by one too many work assignments, family responsibilities, or social gatherings. The pace our society operates in and the modern-day culture of busy-ness makes it way too easy to get lost in the daily grind. If you find yourself in that kind of scenario, with a mounting to-do list and little time to yourself, what do you do?
For starters, tell yourself that you're not alone––this is a universal feeling––and try to press pause, even for a few minutes. You might be on a strict deadline and timing is of the essence, but a short five-minute pause will refresh your mood; clean your energy from negative feelings of stress or overwhelm; and boost your productivity once you return to your to-do list.
We're big advocates of taking proper time to relax, being honest with yourself, and taking a hard look at your thoughts, emotions, and intentions for the future, be it with an indulgent morning or evening routine, deep meditations, or intensive visualisation exercises. But sometimes when reality hits and day-to-day chores, childcare, or professional commitments pile up, it's inevitable that your self-care time will be eclipsed. In those cases, it's easy to turn to negative self-talk and beat yourself up for not keeping up with your important rituals (speaking from personal experience here).
But what you really need in such moments is a reminder of the simplest fact: You're only human and you’re doing your best. To add to that, there are plenty of simple and quick tricks you can fall back on when you're short of time and still need to boost your energy. Cut out the noise––even for a few seconds––and come back to yourself.
To aid the process, Intelligent Change has designed a mini version of the Mindful Focus Hourglass. Lasting for a mere five minutes, this new hourglass was designed to help you get a distraction-free, mindful break during those times when life is pulling you in one too many directions. Even at our busiest periods, it's easy to lose five minutes (or much more) to mindless chatter, doomscrolling, or getting lost into anxious thoughts.
But, if you set a conscious intention to take short breaks throughout the day and use them more mindfully, you'll notice that you’ll be able to deal with those long to-do lists and life challenges with much more ease. Even more so, you won't feel like you're completely stepping away from yourself and onto the hamster wheel—so that when life calms down, you'll be able to pick up exactly where you left off.
Here are some of our favorite ways for decompressing and coming back to ourselves, every time we flip the Five Minute Hourglass:
It might sound obvious but breathwork is a guaranteed way to relieve mental, physical, and emotional tension in as little as a few minutes. We breathe every second to stay alive, but intentional deep-breathing exercises can do so much more than just let us survive.
Conscious breathing––also known as ‘pranayama’ in yogic teachings––has immediate benefits. It will instantly slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and turn on your parasympathetic system. In short, this is the fastest way to feel calmer when your body is in a stressed "flight or fight" mode. The benefits also transcend the physical body and help calm emotional turbulence in the mind, helping you process troubling feelings much easier and connect to your body. All you have to do is breathe. The process can be as simple as inhaling deeply while counting to five, exhaling for the same amount of time, and repeating until the glass beads in your hourglass have all reached the bottom.
As its name suggests, the Five Minute Journal requires a short five-minute commitment and was designed to fit into busy urban lives. You might not have time to write page-long self-reflective essays when you’re busy, but you sure have five minutes at the start and end of each day to dedicate to journaling. Those few minutes will take you a long way, as starting the day by jotting down things that you are grateful for will immediately put you in a positive, abundant state of mind.
Similarly, by writing down the highlights of your day every evening––even on challenging or extra busy days––will give you a whole new appreciation for your own life and the blessings you might have overlooked in the past. With that kind of mindset, the growth mindset, you'll find yourself a lot better equipped to deal with those high-pressure days and inevitable hurdles of day-to-day life. If you are a parent, you can fill in your gratitude journal while your kids list their gratitude or get creative drawing in the children's version—which makes for a quick yet highly-rewarding family ritual.
Meditations can be hour-long esoteric experiences but, at the same time, they can also take the form of a shorter-lived, five-minute effort where you reconnect with your breath and the present moment. Even when you dedicate five minutes, you’ll find yourself coming back feeling refreshed and in a more upbeat mood. The more you practice, the easier it will be to disconnect from the noise in your head and around you and instantly come back to the state of self-awareness.
Draw, or Just Scribble
Creativity is one of the most universal cures and, even if you're not the arty kind or skilled with paint brushes and drawing pencils, you can still connect with your creative side as means of recuperating and coming back to a more positive, refreshed you. This can be as simple as taking a pen and paper and drawing––or merely scribbling––symbols you like, objects you see around you, or silhouettes of people—just like you did as a child.
In the same child-like spirit, you can also get yourself a coloring book and spend the five minutes you get once you flip the Mindful Focus Hourglass. Something as simple as redirecting your view away from the screen and onto the page of a feel-good coloring book, seeing bright color, and engaging in an activity that requires your hands and attention could instantly alleviate worries and put you in a brighter mood. At the end of the day, there are some activities which society tells us should be reserved for children, but play and creativity should not come with an age limit.
By taking five minutes off your daily grind and reading an article or a few pages of a book, not only are you helping your mind refresh but also educating yourself. The caveat here is to make sure you are choosing the content you are reading mindfully and avoiding negative news, in favor of inspirational writing that will get you in the right headspace to maximize your day. You can achieve this by doing some prep-work during calmer moments of your schedule and bookmarking articles you are truly interested in or were recommended by someone whose opinion you trust.
This means you can avoid reading anything you stumble across on the Internet and getting bogged down by sensational headlines or intentionally negative news. Make a list of the writers and platforms that align with your values, or the topics you want to find out more about, save them, and return when you find yourself in need of a mindful and enlightening break. On various sites, Intelligent Change included, you can also see the duration of each read and take your pick depending on how much time you have available.
There's nothing like a well-written piece of literature or great journalism to refresh your perspective and inspire you to live your best life.
Everyone is aware of the importance of stretching after exercise to relieve muscle tension, but stretching can automatically reverse the full cycle of tension in our bodies, spanning both the mental and physical. There's scientific proof that by stretching you increase your serotonin levels, a hormone known for stabilizing your mood, reducing stress levels, and simply making you feel good. It's also the best way to snap out of a low-energy mood when you've been sitting at your desk all day. All you need is a few downward dogs, a set of sun salutations, or simply reaching towards your toes for a few minutes.
There's certainly no magic formula when it comes to dealing with high-pressure days or busy periods where time management becomes a job of its own. But keeping a perspective on what's important for you and finding five minutes to stay in touch with yourself and your values will, without any doubt, ensure that you are dealing with life's challenges in the most intelligent and mindful way possible.