When you think of self-care, it’s easy to picture hour-long bubble baths or long evenings cuddled up with a good book. So if you’ve barely got time to brush your teeth these days, self-care probably feels like a lofty ideal.
That said, amidst the backdrop of a global health pandemic, it’s more important than ever to give yourself some extra TLC to restore and reinvigorate your mind and body. And, no, you don’t have to dedicate 30 minutes—or even 10 minutes—to breath-work to do it.
Even the smallest, speediest acts of self-care go a long way these days. Here, health and wellness experts share their favorite acts of self-care—all of which can be completed in five minutes or less. Read on and get ready to bliss out in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea.
1. Greet the day with a few rounds of Sun Salutations
This simple series of yoga poses is both grounding and energizing. “Between the stretching, letting my head hang free in downward-facing dog, and focusing on the flow of the sequence, I always feel refreshed and a little more chill afterward,” shares Peggy Lundquist, a certified yoga instructor with Gen X Mindfulness.
If you need a tutorial or prefer to go through the sequence with a teacher, check out this five-minute sun salutations video from Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube.
2. Try an essential oil ritual
“Upon rising each morning and while brewing my coffee, I create essential oil blends to best support me and my day,” says Christine E. Kiesinger, Ph.D., Lead Trainer of Emotional Intelligence and Conscious Communication at studio BE, a mindfulness program serving companies, nonprofits, and individuals. “My go-to blend for a full day of work at home is a combination of lavender, lemon, and peppermint.”
“The outcome of blending these three oils is one of great balance,” she says. “The lemon keeps me mentally sharp, bright, and uplifted; the lavender keeps me calm; and the peppermint energizes me.”
As a bonus, your home will smell like a spa as you get ready to tackle your day.
3. Savor some silence
When you need a moment to yourself, take it. “I go into a room, shut the door, turn off all media and music, sit down, and let the silence seep into me,” shares psychotherapist Nancy L. Johnston, M.S., L.P.C., author of DISENTANGLE: When You’ve Lost Yourself in Someone Else. “I love the stillness and almost immediate connection with my breath and the amazingness of being alive.”
For those who like to spend this time disconnecting with just a wee bit of noise, apps like Headspace and Simple Habit offer many guided meditation options that last only a few minutes, ranging from categories like “unwind” and “focus” to “panic” and “good morning.”
4. Reset between activities with “the three essential breaths”
To reflect in moments of transition (like putting away work to start dinner), Kiesinger uses what she’s dubbed “the three essential breaths.”
When you’re between activities throughout your day, pause and take a moment to focus on your breath. You may want to close your eyes, or simply sit down on the couch for a minute. During the first breath, think about someone you love deeply and focus on those warm feelings of adoration. Then during the second breath, contemplate something you’re grateful for and hone in on that gratitude. Finally, during the third breath, repeat the mantra “all is well” or another positive saying of your choice. “This [third] breath shifts my mindset from worry to hope and optimism,” says Kiesinger.
The practice takes about two minutes in total—and you can repeat it whenever you see fit throughout the course of your day. Whether you’re getting up from your living room chair after reading the newspaper or sitting down at the dinner table, it helps ground you and feel present and focused as you go throughout your routines.
5. Make a gratitude list
Spend just 60 seconds on a gratitude practice and you’ll be amazed at the shift in your outlook. “Focusing on gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin, which are the same hormones that antidepressants work with,” explains counselor Jennifer Tomko, L.C.S.W., owner of Clarity Health Solutions in Florida. “Creating more gratitude for the things that bring us joy can permanently restructure our brain.”
If you want to write out your gratitude, spend a minute jotting down a few things both big and small (hello, air conditioning and chocolate peanut butter protein bars) that you’re thankful for. Or, at the dinner table, ask everyone to share three things they liked about their day. Live alone? Recite your list to yourself out-loud; there’s power in giving voice to your words, Tomko says.
6. Take a break for a quick foot soak
Your trotters do so much for you, so take a few minutes to return the favor with a rejuvenating foot soak when a full-on bath isn’t in the cards.
“Add a scoop of Epsom salt to a bucket of water or a shallow bathtub,” says New York City-based nutritionist Tammy Jordan, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “The magnesium content in the salt helps to ease muscles and the experience gives you a relaxing break!”
7. Tidy up before bed
It won’t rank high on the List of Thrilling Activities, but this act of self-care can have a serious impact on your wellbeing.
“Each night, no matter how much I don’t feel like doing it, I take five minutes to make sure the sink is empty and the kitchen is clean,” says nutritional therapy practitioner Ally Milligan, N.T.P. “The kitchen is usually one of the first places we go in the morning, so it’s important that the kitchen sets a good tone for the day!”
If your bedroom or living room tends to be messier, spend your five minutes tidying them—whatever will bring more peace to your next day.
8. Make your skin-care routine more mindful
Instead of rushing through your skin-care routine in the morning, tune in to the moment. “I spend a lot of time talking about being mindful of what you put into your body, so every morning, I pay attention to what I’m putting on my body,” says dietitian Amanda Izquierdo, M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. “My favorite act of self-care—applying SPF 30 to my face and neck—takes less than five minutes. It is one of the last steps in my morning routine, and I like knowing I’m starting the day by protecting my skin.”
9. Sit in the sun
When the weather allows, take a quick break to spend a few minutes in the sunshine. One of the simplest acts of self-care out there, it’ll provide an instant mental and physical boost.
“For one, it allows me to de-stress and reflect on anything in my life that needs my attention,” says dietitian Sofia Norton, R.D., writer for Kiss My Keto. “Second, sunlight is an instant mood booster. And third, I get a dose of vitamin D, which we all need more of for a stronger immune system and many other aspects of health.”
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