And you probably could have guessed this, but chronic stress isn’t kind to your body . It can leave you feeling exhausted, cause breakouts, and even make your hair fall out. Plus, women bear more of day to day stress than men, according to Maureen Sayres Van Niel, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Associations Women’s Caucus.
Why? “Because they continue to shoulder most of the responsibility for nurturing, whether it be of children or elderly relatives, and they continue to have most of the responsibility for caring for the home as well,” she adds. Think about it: When your daily routine is to wake up, get yourself (and possibly several other people) ready, start work, make dinner, clean, and do it all again the next day, you can easily get stressed.
Thats why it’s super important to deal with your stress response in the short-term (a.k.a., doing something to relieve it right now) in addition to long-term solutions, like therapy. While its going to be most beneficial to work on the underlying reasons you feel stressed, there are some things you can do to relieve stress ASAP.
“Fast stress relief can have a significant affect on both your body and your brain,” says L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D. According to the psychologist, using quick stress relief methods can decrease your heart rate to normal levels, allow your body to achieve homeostasis (or balance), and teach your brain how to manage your cortisol (the stress hormone that can be helpful for short periods of time to fight stress, but has negative affects on the body if it occurs too often!).
Try one, or all, of these tricks to start feeling calmer, instantly.
1. Focus on what you can control.
“Engaging in present-focused awareness and what is happening right now is effective for managing strong emotions,” Dr. Chapman says. He recommends using the meditation app, Headspace to get you in that self-focused mindset. And then go forward in your day with the awareness that you can only control what you do (think: washing your hands or wearing a mask to the grocery store).
2. Watch your language.
If it’s quarantine related stress that you’re experiencing, trying changing the way you talk about your current situation. Dr. Chapman, for example makes it a point to call social distancing physical distancing in conversation with himself and other. “This perspective represents an important psychological twist,” Dr. Chapman says. How you label your stress can seriously impact the way you respond to it.
3. Try this “4-7-8” breathing exercise.
Deep breathing is a quick and easy way to deal with in-the-moment stress, says Dr. Van Nieland it can even “change the chemistry of your body and mind.”
There are literally tons of breathing techniques to choose from, but her go-to is the “4-7-8″ method: Before you begin, let all the air out of your lungs and then take a breath, inhaling for the count of four, she says. Its best to count ‘one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two,’ to get the full effect.” Once you’ve inhaled, sit still and hold your breath for a count of seven, she says, then, slowly exhale to a count of eight. Do the exercise four times.
4. Snuggle your face in your dog’s fur.
Or say a simple prayer to yourself, or immediately lace up your shoes for a quick walk or run. The point: Do something that makes you feel relaxed, says Dr. Van Niel. It’s also important to remember that everyone is different, so what counts as a relaxing activity for you, might not feel quite so relaxing for someone else.
“For some, this is a quick workout, but for others it’s a meditation session,” says Dr. Van Niel, adding that reading a favorite book might also be an option. Figure out what works to relax you, and have it in your back pocket for particularly stressful days.
5. Take an at-home personal day.
Actual vacation isn’t really an option right now. But prioritizing “you” time is a necessity. “Maintaining a schedule and being intentional about protecting individual time is essential for self care,” Dr. Chapman says. Instead of working past six from your living room couch, cut out early on your WFH schedule and do something that brings you joy. Grab some essential oilsface mask Friday is calling.
6. Embrace the mess of it all.
Translation? Its okay to give yourself a break and take shortcuts when you caneven with something as simple as chopping your own veggies. Go ahead and buy your veggies already chopped (seriouslyit saves so much time). Or do something similarly time-saving, like ordering takeout from a local restaurant. If you don’t feel like doing your normal blow dry-then-straighten routine, throw it up in a ponytail and call it a day. You’ll feel wayyy less stressed if you embrace the imperfections.
7. Watch “Tiger King” tonight instead of the news.
Sure, its good to keep up with current events, but theres no question that the news can be stressful. If you find that watching the news is stressing you out, go ahead and take a break from it (that’s actual advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Use that time to catch up on your fave guilty-pleasure shows (or, you know, re-watch “Parks and Recreation” for the thousandth time).
8. Exercise for at least 20 minutes every day.
Exercise is an amazing stress-reliever. It can lower your blood pressure, improve your sleep, and give you more energy, according to the American Heart Association .
But you don’t need to go all-out in high-intensity training every day to get the benefits: Even a 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session in the midst of a stressful time can give an immediate effect that can last for several hours, says the (APA). So hit the gym for 30 minutes to work off your stress, or try a new fitness class. Women’s Health has daily IG live workouts with trainers available for all your at-home sweat sessions.
9. Do something to make yourself laugh.
Think back to the last time you laughedand I mean laughed (not just said “LOL”). You probably felt way less stressed in that moment, right?
There’s a reason: People often hold a lot of their stress in their face, and laughs or smiles can help relieve some of that tension, according to the APA.
That’s why Dr. Chapman says scheduling time to interact with friends and family on Facetime or playing virtual games on apps like Houseparty , should be a regular event during physical distancing. Talking to and laughing with family friends will get rid of those not-so-positive thoughts that can come with feeling isolated.
10. Learn how to knit.
Or sew, or paintliterally any craft that interests you. The process of creating something can be therapeuticespecially repetitive tasks like knitting, crochet, or cross-stitching.
In one 2016 study in the journal Art Therapy , researchers found that creating art for 45 minutes noticeably lowered the cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in the saliva of 39 people. While it may be frustrating before you get used to your new craftwhether its pottery, candle-making, jewelry-making, or anything elsemaking something will help with stress in the long run.
11. Turn on some Ariana Grande.
Many people use music as a means of dealing with emotionsthey listen when they’re sad, when they’re angry, or when they want to get energizedso it makes sense to use music as a way to chill tf out.
While some will claim that certain types of music (songs with slow, relaxing tempos, for example) are better than others for stress-relief, its most important that youre specifically listening to music in order to relax, according to a 2015 study from the journal . Think about it: If youre turning on the radio because you want to chill out, youre likely paying more attention and really trying to de-stress.
12. Get in downward dog position.
Thanks to its combination of physical exercise, stretching, meditation, and deep breathing, yoga is incredible for stress relief, says . Try to make room for a yoga class or two in your week and take the time to really let go of obligations and negative thoughts.
13. Stop thinking all those negative thoughts.
I knoweasier said than done, but it really can help with your stress levels, according to the AHA . Instead, practice some positive self-talk. That means, instead of saying “I can’t do this,” say something like, “I will do the best I possibly can.”
14. Snag 15 minutes to yourself every single day.
When youre dealing with coworkers, friends, a partner, and kids all day, every day, it can be helpful for your stress to just take a few minutes to yourself each day. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes of me-time every day, the AHA suggests, and do whatever you want. You can simply sit in your car and breathe deeply or listen to music before you go inside for the night or spend that time on your porch with a cup of coffee in the morninganything that helps you relax.
15. Help others.
We all know it’s good to give. But it can seriously help reframe the way you think about what’s stressing you out. “Helping people who are often in situations worse than yours will help you put your problems into perspective,” according to the . “The more you give, the more resilient and happy you feel.”
If possible, getting groceries for those who arent capable, sending words of encouragement via text message, or sending a letter to a friend just to say you appreciate them can be extremely effective ways to bring about stress relief, Dr. Chapman says.
Although it’s not easy, gratitude is an essential attribute to express during times of uncertainty,” he adds.
16. Go ahead and leave the party, if you want to.
Some people thrive in social situations like virtual happy hours or trivia night over Zoom. Others…not so much.
If you fall in the latter group, one easy way to relieve stress fast is to get out of that uncomfortable situation (and dont beat yourself up for it later). Its okay to prefer small, intimate gatherings with friends, says Dr. Van Niel. And hanging out at a party is not worth stressing yourself out all night.
17. Take a bathbut not a bubble bath.
Self-care advocates constantly talk up the relaxation benefits of a hot bubble bath, but science tells us that floating in a pool of water can be great for stress relief, as well.
Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) is a specific type of water therapy that involves floating on your back in a pool of water saturated with Epsom salt. In one 2018 study in the journal PLos One , researchers found that floating in an Epsom salt pool for one hour reduced anxiety in people with anxiety and stress disorders.
Feel free to search out a spa near you that has one of these Epsom salt pools, or go ahead and relax in a tub filled DIY-style with water and Epsom salts.