It doesn’t take long to get totally freaked out and stressed out of your mind, does it? Hell, it happens to me at least once a week. I’m afraid I locked my keys in my car! My wallet’s gone! When these types of daily scares occur, relief usually comes fast once you realize everything’s okay. But when stressors gain a foothold due to frustrations and overwork on the job or at home, returning to your comfort zone may be a challenge. Running a couple of miles will help, as will a 30-minute meditation. But time for those leisurely de-stressing tactics is not always available.
Luckily, you don’t need a lot of time to regain your composure. Here are 23 de-stressing tactics that each can be performed in five minutes or less…some in as little a few seconds:
- Breathe…Slow, deep breathing for only a few minutes can dramatically decrease tension.
- Brush…Stroking your skin with a dry brush stimulates nerve endings, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and triggers a more relaxed state.
- Chew…Chewing gum can seem like a nervous habit, but actually it can relax you. A 2008 study at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, found that chewing reduces the stress hormone cortisol in saliva by 16% during mild stress and nearly 12% during moderate stress.
BONUS TIP: Gum chewing after a meal also helps reduce acid levels in the esophagus and can help prevent acid reflux.
- Count…Counting numbers gives your mind something neutral to focus on. This diversion can often get you on a more serene track.
- Deal…As in a deck of cards to play solitaire, one of my personal faves. Focusing on flipping those cards and knowing that my success is due almost entirely to chance make the pressure of the moment drift off, blown away by the flick of a red Jack onto a black Queen.
- Discard…Clutter is more common in the 21st century than ever before, and being buried in stuff increases our level of stress hormones. It can overload our senses and even impair our creativity. Start gaining the upper hand by placing a garbage bag prominently in whichever room is the biggest culprit. Each time you walk by it, throw out at least a couple of items that have overstayed their welcome.
- Eat…a piece of chocolate; it stimulates the brain to release beta endorphins, the body’s own feel-good drug, and also reduces other stress-related biochemical activity. A banana is a good choice, too; it’s loaded with potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
- Float…Imagine yourself floating in air, drifting to the ground like a falling leaf. It’s hard to feel pressured when nothing’s pressing against you and you’re moving in slow motion.
- Iron…Focusing on the repetitive back-and-forth motion across the ironing board makes this activity akin to meditation.
- Kiss…“Kissing relieves stress by creating a sense of connectedness, which releases endorphins, the chemicals that counteract stress and depression,” notes Laura Berman, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who led a study on kissing behavior.
- Laugh…I’m not talking about “heh-heh” or “tee-hee.” Let loose with a resounding belly laugh! It will reduce the levels of epinephrine, cortisol, and other stress hormones. And remember…what counts is the physical act of laughing; nothing has to be funny for you enjoy these stress-busting benefits.
- Listen…to a soothing tune. Classical music in particular can lower blood pressure, slow down your pulse, and reduce stress hormones. It also increases dopamine, a brain chemical that helps us feel pleasure. My personal favorite: Enya’s “Caribbean Blue.”
- Massage…Find the part of your body that feels tight and knead it a bit with one or both hands. Then top it off with a full body shake. It’s like waking up from a refreshing nap.
- Organize…Chaos creates stress that we may not even be aware of. Straightening things up to re-establish order can reduce your stress load (not to mention help you find things you’ve been searching for!).
- Pet…the first cat or dog you can get your hands on. According to an article in Social Work Today, merely stroking a cat can trigger release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce cortisol levels.
Pose…in cat-cow position, a yoga pose known to promote a sense of relaxation. It’s also a good prep for more vigorous exercise.
- Scan…Focus on each part of your body to see where tension might have a grip on you, then take a deep, slow breath and try to relax the stressed area during the exhale.
- Scream…One reason stress builds up in us is because we don’t release any of it. There’s nothing more primal than a good old-fashioned scream to get negativity out of our system. Doing so also releases endorphins that can provide a great natural source of relief. To avoid scaring the bejesus out of people within earshot: shout into a pillow.
- Sigh…A good sigh almost literally takes the weight of the world off our shoulders, because it requires you to lower them. It also makes you relax your jaw and release tension in your upper body, which takes you to a more relaxed state.
- Sing…Endorphins and oxytocin, both associated with feeling pleasure and relieving stress and anxiety, are released when we sing. Singing also stimulates the vagus nerve, an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system that helps control our relaxation response. You don’t even have to sing real lyrics; the benefits are the same if you babble through the notes. A great venue for your performance: while driving.
- Sip… a cup of hot tea. In a British study, people who drank black tea reduced their stress levels faster than those who drank a tea substitute. A number of herbal infusions have also been shown to have stress-reducing benefits, among them chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, and green tea. Some teas increase levels of GABA, an amino acid that promotes calm, and an amino acid called L-theanine found in tea appears to work in conjunction with the caffeine to reduce cortisol and improve mental alertness.
- Stretch…Sometimes we forget that any stretching is better than none, and we don’t take the time to do it unless we’re ready to do a full-body routine. In just a few minutes, you can easily determine which area of your body seems tightest and stretch it out. For me, it’s usually my thighs, and a quick routine makes me feel a lot more relaxed with every step I take afterward.
- Stroll…If you’re in a stressful state of mind because of work or other worries, change the scene. Step outside and take a lap around your house or the block. Check out the sights during your mini-walkabout. If you have a little more time, try a walking meditation; there are even apps to lead you through it.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy reading:
- Open Your Mouth and Say ‘Ha!’: The Medicine of Mirth
- Seeing Through the Fog
- Train Your Brain: How to Reduce Anxiety Through Mindfulness and Meditation