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5 ways to improve your mental wellbeing in under 5 minutes

Here are a few simple things you can do to relax and refocus

A close-up of a woman smiling while she closes her eyes
A close-up of a woman smiling while she closes her eyes

It doesn’t matter if you’ve started a new job, are moving house, or have a to-do list as long as the Great Ocean Road, we all feel overwhelmed from time to time.

As much as we’d love to be like Taylor Swift and simply ‘shake it off’, factors such as increased workloads, major life events, and never-ending to-do lists can make it difficult to feel calm and in control.

While it's normal to feel overwhelmed every now and then, it’s important to keep in mind that prolonged periods of stress can lead to more serious mental health challenges.

In this article, nib mental health nurse Jo Baja and Lifeline’s Dr Ally Nicolopoulos share their top five tips for helping you feel less stressed in as little as five minutes.

1. Check in with yourself

Self-care in challenging times is crucial. So, it’s ironic that when we’re feeling out of control, self-care often takes a backseat. We all process our emotions differently, so regularly checking in with your body and mind could make all the difference.

According to Jo, a few helpful questions to ask yourself include:

  • What am I feeling right now?

  • What thoughts or sensations am I experiencing?

  • What do I need in this moment?

2. Talk to yourself how you would talk to a friend

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we are on our friends?

"We have our inner critic to thank for this lack of self-compassion!" says Dr Ally.

"When we give our inner critic too much airtime, it can create a negative thought cycle that reinforces feelings of inadequacy and ultimately lowers our self-esteem."

Dr Ally says you can learn to interrupt this cycle by becoming aware of your inner critic and actively showing self-compassion by trying one or more of the following tactics:

  • Write a letter to yourself offering the same advice and level of compassion that you’d give a friend going through a similar situation.

  • Compliment and build yourself up how you would a friend. You can do this by writing affirmations on sticky notes, saying them in the mirror, or listing them in your journal.

Here are a few phrases to get you started:

  • ‘I am strong and capable.’

  • ‘I am a great problem solver.’

  • ‘I deserve to take time to rest.’

3. Just breathe…

When it comes to improving your mental wellbeing, mindfulness takes the cake. Keeping cool, calm and collected is crucial, but how exactly do we achieve this?

“Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment and being intentional about what you’re doing,” says Jo.

“Intentional breathing is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, and there’s no easier way to relax your mind, than by taking a few long, deep breaths.”

To bring some calm into your day, take time to breathe in and out while focusing on the rising and falling of your chest. And, don’t be fooled into thinking that improving your mental health can only be achieved when you’re in a quiet room all by yourself - Jo says another great time to explore mindfulness is when you’re going for a walk.

“To anchor your mind, make a conscious effort to feel the ground beneath your feet with every step or focus on the different sounds you can hear.”

Sometimes you have to take a break from the outside world in order to reconnect with your inner self

Dr Ally adds that breathing can help lower your heart rate and decrease muscle tension. "Taking deep breaths can be a healthy way to distract your mind from intrusive thoughts and restore a sense of calm," she says.

While there are numerous breathing techniques you can try, a great technique to start with is box breathing. Here's how:

  • Breathe in through your nose for the count of four

  • Hold your breath for the count of four

  • Exhale through your mouth for the count of four

  • Hold your breath for the count of four

  • Repeat until your mind and body feel relaxed.

4. Disconnect and take a break from technology

Are you scrolling through your phone first thing in the morning and last thing before bed? If so, maybe it’s time for a digital detox.

A Lonergan Research study revealed we’re in front of a screen for more than one third of our day on average. In fact, we’re spending more time with our electronic devices than we are eating, commuting, working and exercising combined.

"While technology undoubtedly brings many benefits, too much screen time can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness, difficulty focusing, decreased productivity and low self-esteem," says Dr Ally.

Jo explains the best way to combat this is by setting technology-free time.

“Sometimes you have to take a break from the outside world in order to reconnect with your inner self. Being glued to technology can take us away from being aware of what is actually happening around us,” she says.

“Try to disconnect for the first hour after you wake up in the morning and for the last hour before you go to bed. This can allow you time to engage with people at home or time to simply connect with yourself.”

5. Reach out to a friend or family member

Did you know that having strong social connections can boost your mental health?

"As far back as we can trace, humans have thrived in social groups and relied on their community for safety, a sense of identity, and good health. It’s no coincidence we often say ‘a burden shared is a burden halved’," says Dr Ally.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may find it helpful to connect with a friend or family member. Keep in mind that you don’t have to ‘download your worries’ onto them. Oftentimes, it can be helpful just to be surrounded by the positive energy of others.

Dr Ally suggests:

  • Asking if they’d like to go for a walk

  • Sending them a picture of a shared memory

  • Writing a quick message to say how grateful you are to have them in your life.

  • If you’re struggling to think of someone in your inner circle to reach out to, you may want to think about ways you can build new connections.

By combining these five tactics the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ll be on your way to a calmer and more-centred version of yourself within minutes.

Lifeline’s Support Toolkit is also a great resource for tools, techniques, and strategies for supporting yourself and your loved ones with mental wellbeing.

If you or someone you know needs help please call:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800