Mini-retreats to sneak into your day

To squash stress and renew your energy, take five.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

Stress has a way of permeating people's lives. It hits in big ways, like financial and health problems, and sneaks in with the daily agitations of commuting, overcommitting and caring for family members. Even happy events bring along new responsibilities and stressors.

How to keep your cool? Go on a mini-retreat.

Nathalie Longpré, owner of Boutique & Spa signé Pevonia at the Hotel Manoir Victoria in Quebec City, believes it's important to stop and take time for yourself. "Sometimes we're so caught up in our daily activities that we run out of breath," she says. "We have to stop, clear the mind, take time and get in touch with ourselves." That's what a mini-retreat is all about.

-- By Teresa Bergen for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 14 People outside (Malcolm MacGregor/Getty Images)

Get out in nature

Stress can make you feel scattered and unable to think clearly. A University of Michigan study published in the journal Psychological Science investigated the effects of nature on people's cognitive skills. They divided 38 participants into two groups. One went on a daily 50-minute walk through the Ann Arbor Arboretum. The other group walked in traffic-filled downtown. Afterwards, the people who walked among trees tested 20 percent higher on mental acuity. Results were the same regardless of weather conditions.

If you only have a few minutes, visit your nearest city park, walk your dog or just stroll around the block and admire flowers, cats or whatever part of the natural world is available. Even a minute of contemplation can be restful. Hugo Manuel Gonzalez, a lawyer in Guayaquil, Ecuador, rests his mind by pausing every day to gaze at the Guayas River flowing past his office.

2 of 14 A city park (Roderick Chen/Getty Images)

Go inward: Meditation

The ancient practice of meditation has moved decisively into the mainstream. Originally used to connect with the mystic and sacred, modern folks also use it to relax and de-stress. Meditation is simple, free and can be done anywhere.

Meditation can help increase self-awareness and focus on the present. While studies are ongoing, MayoClinic.com is cautiously optimistic about using meditation to ease asthma, binge eating, pain, cancer, substance abuse and various other conditions.
Around the world, people practice many types of meditation. It can be as simple as closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, or silently repeating an affirmation or mantra. Even a minute or two can alter your perspective on a stressful situation.

3 of 14 A woman meditating (Saloutos/Getty Images)

Dance to a favorite song

One of the best stress relievers is exercise. But many people who claim to dislike exercise still enjoy dancing. Phiroozeh Romer, who teaches an Indian music-based dance fitness program called Bombay Jam, feels better when she takes time to dance to Bollywood music. "When you're dancing, you don't notice you're exercising," she says. "You don't notice your heart rate because you're too busy grooving to the music and the moves and feeling like a Bollywood heroine."

Whatever makes you shake your hips — be it blues, rap, rock or classical — change your perspective by combining music and movement for a perfect mini-retreat.

4 of 14 A woman dancing (Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images)

Eat something really good

Long, stressful days of nonstop action often mean missing regular meals or gobbling on the go. Retreat by sitting down and savoring something you enjoy. This could be a spinach salad, an oatmeal cookie or a slice of lemon pie. Whatever it is, pay attention to the flavor, texture and the way it nourishes you.

"I love a cool glass of sparkling water with fresh lemon along with two or three pieces of organic dark chocolate," says Ava Roxanne Stritt, a retreat expert who writes the popular Spa Travel Gal blog. "Find a relaxing chair or chaise longue to truly feel indulgent."

5 of 14 Cookie sandwiches (Daniel Kriege/Getty Images)

Quick or at-home spa treatment

If you have time to sneak off to a spa, many offer express services. "People come here to have somebody take care of them," says spa owner Longpré. Computers and smart phones cannot replace the feeling of somebody's hands touching you, she says. "It's a special moment, human being to human being." For a mini-spa retreat, Longpré recommends an express facial or a 20-minute massage focusing on your back and neck.

No time to get to the spa? Stritt suggests combining two tablespoons yogurt, two tablespoons honey and two drops of lavender essential oil for a gentle and soothing homemade face mask.

6 of 14 A woman getting a facial (Matthew Wakem/Getty Images)

Say your prayers

Religions have long traditions of spiritual retreats. People of faith understand the importance of a spiritual pause. "Taking the time to stop what you are doing in the midst of a busy day is vital to recharging our life's batteries," says Cornelia Becker Seigneur, a journalist who writes about faith and family. "The way I personally do this is through prayer."

Whether you prefer formal, memorized prayers or a more open-ended chat with the divine, many people find that praying increases their sense of connection with the world. You can sit in a quiet corner of your house or pop into a church. Becker Seigneur likes to pray about her work, family and creative pursuits while walking outside. "I am much more productive when I take the time to ask God in prayer to guide my life and work," she says.

7 of 14 Bible (David Freund/Getty Images)

Silence

The more ways people communicate, the more they long to ditch their devices and go off the grid. But at the same time, when confronted by technological unavailability, they may panic and not know what to do with themselves. Many folks who sign up for silent meditation retreats don't make it through the week.

So start small. Try 30 minutes of silence: no talking, no listening to music, no podcasts, no TV, no texting or other e-chatter. Don't even talk to your dog. Do the dishes with only your thoughts for company. Sit in a chair and stare into space. But whatever you do, do it silently.

8 of 14 Electronic distractions (Trevor Williams/Getty Images)

Yoga

If you spend your workday crunching numbers, programming or otherwise using lots of brain power, you may feel out of touch with the rest of your body. Slipping away to a yoga class can help reintegrate the body and mind. The trick is finding the right class. If you're new to yoga, go to a beginning class. Avoid advanced classes where people contort themselves into pretzel shapes, as this will only frustrate.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, yoga's meditative state calms your sympathetic nervous system and promotes rest and digestion. It improves focus, decreases stress, relieves menopause symptoms, and fosters concentration, better mood and better sleep. Once you've been to some classes, you can practice a few favorite poses at home, work or in a hotel room.

9 of 14 A woman doing yoga (Carl Schneider/Getty Images)

Mental retreat: Do a puzzle

When you're wrestling with problems or anxiety, shifting the mind can help. Take time out to do something that uses a different part of the brain, such as solving a sudoku puzzle or a crossword. Doing puzzles has additional benefits, says the British Psychological Society: improving reasoning skills and boosting memory. Puzzles and other problem-solving tasks improve both hand-eye coordination and language skills. So don't feel guilty about taking a puzzle break. Set the timer for 30 minutes and let your mind contemplate a problem with a definite and satisfying solution. You'll be doing your brain a favor.
10 of 14 A man doing a word puzzle (Digital Vision/Getty Images)