9 (Almost) Instant Stress-Busting Strategies
Soothe your body and your mind with this expert advice
Stress — we all live it and know the toll it can take on our physical well-being. There are plenty of ways to combat chronic stress, including yoga, meditation, long walks in nature and exercise. But what about quick fixes for those moments when stress sneaks up on us — when we suddenly discover we have jaw pain from clenching or grinding our teeth or we're practically hyperventilating from shallow breathing?
It’s just as important to learn to notice and deal with in-the-moment stress as it is to create a lifestyle designed to buffer you from it in the long-term. For instance, a quick way to counter clenching: Touch your tongue to roof of your mouth — you can’t tighten your jaw that way.
Here are nine other quick ways to nip stress in the bud.
Related: Is Your Dog Stressed Out?
Just breathe. “When we're upset, we often hold our breath,” says Kristen Lee Costa, EdD, LCSW, a professor of behavioral sciences and education at Northeastern University and author of “RESET: Make the Most of Your Stress.” This interferes with the flow of oxygen throughout the body.
If you notice you’re holding your breath, get back on track with deep diaphragm breathing. Breathe in fully, so that your belly expands, to a count of four. Then breathe out just as slowly, again to a count of four. Doing this for one to two minutes should help you feel calmer and better able to focus.
Even when you aren’t in a stressful situation, practicing deep breathing now and then can help prevent you from becoming agitated or overwhelmed, says Costa.
Stand up to stress. Your posture affects how others see you. It can even affect how you feel. For example, poor posture can compound feelings of stress and anxiety. Take inventory: Are you tense, hunched forward, frowning?
“These body signals tell our minds that it’s time to be on alert,” says Friedemann Schaub MD, PhD, author of The Fear and Anxiety Solution. To curb negativity, fake it till you make it by sitting, standing and walking as if you’re the world’s biggest optimist. Pull your shoulders back and then let them relax so that you aren’t slumped forward. Simply changing your posture telegraphs to your mind that all is well.
Take it one toe at a time. Progressive muscle relaxation is a favorite technique of Tom Casano, CEO and founder of Life Coach Spotter. “When your body is relaxed, your mind will soon follow,” he says. Start by deliberately tensing the muscles in your feet. Then release them. Next do the same with your calves. Work your way up your body.
Get a move on. “Emotions are energy,” says Schaub. “When this energy gets stuck, it can feel overwhelming.” To get unstuck, move your body. Take a quick brisk walk, do some jumping jacks or even dance around the room. You can literally shake off the bad juju that’s got you feeling lethargic.
Reach out and hug someone. “Feeling connected to another person can lower stress,” says Kathleen Hall, PhD, founder of The Stress Institute.
“Hugging someone releases oxytocin and dopamine, two ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your body,” Casano says. “It also lowers your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.”
Be your own voice of reason. Mantras are phrases you repeat to yourself to clear away negative thoughts — and they aren’t just for yogis and meditators. “A mantra can be as simple as a one word intention like ‘peace’ or ‘joy,’ or a basic phase such as, ‘This too shall pass,’ ‘I think I can,’ or ‘I’ve got this,’” Costa says.
Another self-pep-talk technique: At a time when you’re feeling good, record yourself repeating an empowering, reassuring voice message on your phone to play back in moments of anxiety. “You can draw from this good energy when you need it,” Schaub says.
Laugh it off. When you’re agitated, the last thing you’re in the mood to do is have a giggle. But try it anyway. “Laughter releases endorphins, which makes you feel better,” Casano says. “It's hard to feel stressed and be laughing at the same time.” Think of something that you find funny — a good joke, a clever YouTube video, your dog’s antics — and let loose a guffaw or two.
Hum yourself happy. “When you notice you’re stressed and ruminating about something, hum the happy birthday song, which your mind associates with upbeat, joyful feelings,” suggests Schaub. “As your mind registers the two contradicting inputs, it becomes confused about what to focus on, which interrupts the mental and emotional patterns of anxiety.”
Have a snack. Sometimes what feels like stress is actually low blood sugar. “Stress and anxiety are natural responses to a lack of nutrition, so eating a protein bar or carton of yogurt can actually alleviate anxiety,” Schaub says. Just make sure you aren’t eating mindlessly when you’re upset or uptight: If your knee-jerk reaction to anxiety always is to reach for the cookies, you should be looking more closely at how you’re feeling and dealing.