Try this 20-second stress relief technique: UC Berkeley research

You can reduce stress with a simple daily practice lasting no longer than 20 seconds, according to Eli Susman, a UC Berkeley PhD candidate in clinical science.

As reported by Deborah Netburn in The Los Angeles Times, Susman went to a one-month retreat to a Buddhist monastery in France in 2017 when he was disappointed to learn that just 30 minutes of daily meditation were on the schedule:

Midway through the retreat he decided to extend one of his sessions, sitting beneath a tree for three hours. Later, he ran into a monk named Brother Treasure and told him about his practice. The monk's response was not what he expected.

"Three hours?" Susman remembers Brother Treasure telling him with a smile. "How about three breaths? That's all it takes to step into the present moment."

The words stuck with Susman. It led him to wonder whether an abbreviated practice that takes no more than a few breaths can make a difference in someone's life.

This year, Susman and his colleagues conducted a study at UC Berkeley's Golden Bear Sleep and Mood Research Clinic. The study involved participants engaging in a 20-second ritual of self-compassion. Susman explains the instructions lose your eyes and call to mind something about yourself that has been bothering you and making you feel unworthy, unloved or not enough and notice what arises in the body. Then we asked people to send kindness and warmth to themselves by placing one hand over the heart and another over the belly with the energy of giving themselves a hug and notice what arises in the body now. Next, we invited them to ask themselves, 'How can I be a friend to myself in this moment?' Finally we told them to open their eyes when they were ready."

Susman's findings were conclusive: the 20-second practice had a positive impact on people's lives. However, it only worked for those who practiced it regularly. Susman explains, "More frequent practice was associated with a greater increase in self-compassion and a greater reduction in stress and mental health problems like symptoms of depression or anxiety, compared to a control group."

Despite its brevity, maintaining a daily practice is crucial. Susman compares it to other daily habits, stating, "We wash our hands for 20 seconds. We brush our teeth for two minutes. Why not take 20 seconds to do this?"

See also: Meditators can switch off their consciousness on demand, new study reveals