News & Politics

4 Easy and Effective Ways to Relax

Only have a few minutes to de-stress? That's all you need.

Photograph of Woman by Image Source/Alamy.

Snack Well

“One trick for feeling relaxed is carbs,” says Danielle Omar, a nutritionist in Fairfax. “You make serotonin in the body by eating carbs; serotonin is a mood regulator—it makes you feel less anxious and more focused. Some snack ideas that contain just the right amount of carbs are a handful of pretzels, a few whole-grain crackers, a slice of bread with pumpkin-butter spread, or half of a small sweet potato. Magnesium is also a great stress reliever. You can find magnesium in nuts, beans, whole grains, and leafy greens like spinach.”

Shake, Shake, Shake

The next time you’re sitting at your computer feeling stuck—the ideas or words just aren’t coming—Dr. James Gordon, director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Chevy Chase DC, suggests shaking loose your creativity. Literally.

“Put on fast, driving music and begin shaking from your feet up through your knees, hips, chest, shoulders. Do this for about five minutes,” he says. “Most of us fall into habitual physical, postural, and psychological patterns. We’re not as free or imaginative as we might be. The shaking lets us get unstuck.”

Quick, Turn Out the Lights

Here’s an enlightening way to dial down some anxiety: Turn off your office’s overhead light and use the softer glow of lamps instead. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that bright lights intensify emotion and amp us up.

Sue Bridge, a fourth-grade math and language-arts teacher in Fairfax, knows this well: “One of my favorite things to do when I’m having a stressful day is to turn out the lights in my classroom. It helps calm the kids, too.”

Take a Deep Breath—Like This

We’re a city of shallow breathers, says the Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s James Gordon: “If you just breathe into your chest, that can make you anxious.”

Deeper breathing into the belly, on the other hand, moves more oxygen through the body and stimulates the vagus nerve, promoting relaxation.

“The technique I teach is to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” he says. “Your belly should be soft, and rise and fall with each breath. Some people put their hand on their belly to feel it, although after a while you don’t have to. As you breathe in, say ‘soft,’ and as you breathe out, ‘belly.’ Do that for five minutes a couple of times a day. It’s simple and powerful. It will change your life.”

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.