If stress is getting the better of you, give yourself a minute. Literally. Next time you're feeling stressed, spend 60 seconds doing one of the activities below and feel yourself relax. Or, mix and match these stress-busters to create your own relaxation break. Your heart will thank you for it.
Take 5 Slow, Deep Breaths
Stress typically causes quick, shallow breathing, which contributes to a rapid heart rate and sweating, which causes more stress. “Get control of your breathing and the spiraling effects of stress will automatically become less intense,” says Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic and medical editor of the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine.
Try this technique to feel more relaxed:
- Inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six.
- Keep your mouth closed, shoulders relaxed.
- As you breathe in, push your stomach out.
- Hold and slowly count to four.
- Exhale through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
- Repeat three to five times.
- Read Your Fan Mail_Print out complimentary e-mails and look at them when you’re feeling anxious. Keep notes, letters, and cards in a special box you can get to easily. Or play back friendly phone messages.
- Drink a Huge Glass of Water_Dehydration can exacerbate stress and cause fatigue.
- Look Forward to Fun_Take a one-minute time-out and think about something fun you’re looking forward to later that day. Thinking about something enjoyable you’ll do later helps keep things in perspective. You may be stressed now, but you’ll know it will soon pass, and you’ll be doing something relaxing.
- Find a Quiet Place to Meditate_Meditation actually changes brain waves—not just while you “ohm,” but often for the rest of the day. Close your eyes and focus on a word or phrase in rhythm with your breath.
- Pet Your Pet_Researchers looked at a group of stockbrokers who were being treated with an ACE inhibitor. Half of the subjects had a dog or cat; the other half had no pet. Although their blood pressure stayed consistent in day-to-day situations, during times of stress the pet owners had lower blood pressure and heart rates than those without pets.
- Chew Gum_Studies show that chewing the stuff can actually change brain waves, improving alertness and concentration and reducing stress.
- Perform a Random Act of Kindness_Pick a bouquet of flowers from your garden and give it to a neighbor, or let someone pull ahead of you on the expressway, “Kindness is a natural stress-buster.”
- Escape … in Your Mind_Sit in a quiet place for a moment and imagine yourself lying on a beach. Feel the sunlight on your body, hear the sounds of the ocean waves, smell the surf. “Research has found that the same parts of the brain are activated when people are imagining something as when they’re actually experiencing it,” Bauer says “When someone imagines a serene image, the optic cortex is activated in the same way as when the person is actually seeing the beautiful vista.”
- Hug and Kiss Someone_Touch can help reduce stress-hormone levels and boost the immune system.
- Eat an Orange_In one study, subjects who got 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C two weeks before performing a task that combined public speaking with math problems had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure than those who didn’t get the vitamin.
- Listen to Beethoven or Bach_One study found that people who listened to classical music after a stressful task had significantly lower blood pressure than those who heard no music.
- Make a Thankful List_Write down five things that you’re grateful for at that moment. “It could be the window in your office, air-conditioning on a hot day, or your pet,” Kase says. When you are under stress, everything can seem overwhelming, and it’s easy to forget about things you appreciate. “Writing down a grateful list helps people realize there can be stressful things and wonderful things at the same time,” she says.
- Play with a Favorite Toy_Keep wind-up toys, Nerf balls, Rubik’s Cubes®, etc., in your desk. “I keep a clown nose, an Elvis driver’s license, and light-up thumbs with me at all times,” says Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D., an adjunct professor in psychology at Pepperdine University. “Humor adds perspective, making the stressors of life less potent.”
- Eat Yogurt_A study found that people suffering from exhaustion and stress improved after taking a probiotic supplement for six months. Probiotics contain the good bacteria found in yogurt.
- Mix Your Breakfast_Have a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas with a dash of half-and-half, says Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., research director at SupplementWatch.com, a health education company. A meal that contains protein and complex grains will help you think more clearly. The more clearly you think, the less anxious you’ll get during the day.