Circuit Training for your Mind: 10 Minutes to Feel Less Stressed
By Nat Howard, BA Dip Edu
Let’s be honest, almost everyone is under too much stress. Just thinking about it can make you feel more stressed. Before we get overwhelmed with just how much stress we’re all under, let’s just do something about it now.
The truth is, yes, we’re all under a lot of stress. Yes, there are many, many reasons for it. But no, the solutions don’t have to be complex and unattainable. We can feel less stressed in as little as 10 minutes.
So let’s do some circuit training for your mind.
Why circuit training? Why not just sit quietly for 10 minutes?
Many people struggle to sustain focus (just look at the time on Fb / Insta Stories and Tik Tok as a clue for average attention span.) This makes practices like silent stillness really daunting. For many people, it’s just not going to work. Their brains are not wired that way, so they get fed up feeling forced to do it.
Even for the brains that are wired for sustained focus, often they’re in hyperdrive. So much to do, not enough time to do it. Silent stillness feels “unproductive” to a super busy brain, so their mind just nags at them the whole time, stressing them out.
So, this practice is for everyone. I’ve used versions of it with school students and adults, one on one and in groups. When you feel tension building, overwhelm creeping in, emotions rising, alarm bells going off – that’s a good time to do it. That’s the signal saying, “Whoa, hold on, let’s deal with this, before we explode. Or implode. Not later. Now.”
We’re not going to sit around and wait for the stress to “disappear.” You’re going to reset those circuits in your brain that are on a stress loop – with some circuit training.
What you need:
- A timer
- A bit of privacy (you can do a modified version if there’s people around, but you’ll feel better if you can do it in relative privacy.)
- A drink of water
- A pen / pencil and piece of paper
What to Do:
Set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Then set the timer to 2 minutes. Set the alarm to a calm sound, like chimes, not a crazy alarm bell or a siren – unless you really find that fun. Repeat the 2 minute timer for every station.
If you have the freedom and space, move to a slightly different spot for each station. In the classroom I called them “Brain Stations” – a different station for each brain mode. Even a small change of location helps to reset the brain. You can do this whole process in your living room, so it’s not complex at all.
Station 1: Let it Out
That’s right, let loose. Unleash whatever is stressing you out. Say it out loud, shout, huff, growl, swear, picture whoever or whatever is stressing you out and give them a piece of your mind. Act like the overwhelmed, overstretched, overstimulated person that you are. It might look like an all-out tantrum, or maybe just a totally deflated hunched over sob. However it’s coming out for you, let it out.
Station 2: Move
Now you’ve expressed some of the mental overload, it’s time to get it out physically. There are no rules or routines here, just move. Star jumps, squats, burpees, mountain climbers, punching, stepping, kicking, tapping hands or elbows to opposite feet, tugging on your earlobes (yes, that’s good for your brain). Go hard and fast, or keep it cruisy – whatever feels good for you. Just do continuous movement for 2 minutes. Play some background beats with a solid riff if you want to amp up the vibe.
Station 3: Stretch
Take it down a notch now and turn your movements into stretches. Side bends, back bends, downward dog, cat / cow pose – whatever works for you. Hold and sink into each stretch and feel the tension release. Notice your breathing and the calmness that is starting to return to you.
Don’t rush these. You may only do a few poses in the 2 minutes. Less is more.
Station 4: Drink & Draw
Sit down, and drink a whole cup of water. Hydrate your stressed brain. Don’t chug it down, take the whole 2 minutes to drink. The brain is 80% water. Room temperature or warm water is the most hydrating because the body doesn’t need to work to absorb it. While you’re drinking, get a pen or pencil and put it on paper. It doesn’t matter if you draw or write. The point is to move it across paper.
The haptics of holding a pen / pencil and feeling and seeing it mark a page is soothing to the brain – especially when the majority of the haptic feedback we all get is from screens and keyboards. If you draw something pretty or write something meaningful, that’s a nice side effect.
Station 5: Breathe
You should have been breathing this whole time, ideally. But now is when you really focus on your breath. The stations are engineered to first let the intensity out, then gradually and specifically settle you down. Now you are ready to have 2 minutes of stillness.
The best way is to lie flat on your back, because this switches the adrenals off, which play a key function in your fight/flight response. If you can’t lie down, sitting comfortably is still good. Just notice your breath. In and out. No need to change it, just feel it. Feel your heart rate, feel your arms and legs, feel your back against the floor or chair.
Know that it’s just 2 minutes of stillness and breath, but in that time you can reset your brain and body to be present and calm again.
Yes, life is still there to deal with, but you’re in a bit better place to deal with it now.