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Stress ought to be a four-letter word, I often think. It can cause physical and emotional harm, derail our best intentions, and make us lose sight of our goals. Sometimes we need complex stress management systems, and sometimes we just need a way to blow off stress quickly. This post focuses on seven techniques that will help reduce your stress fast – within a few minutes – to reduce the tension you feel and help you manage your reactions to the stress-inducing events around you.
Although it would be next to impossible to eliminate it completely from modern life, we can learn to manage and control the stress we feel. To do this, we must remember that situations on their own do not cause stress – stress is created based on our response to these events.
Stress is a normal feeling, and quite familiar to most of us. Sometimes, it can be positive, as when it alerts you to danger or motivates you to meet an important deadline. However, it can also have a negative impact on both your emotional and physical health.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines stress as a “feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous…Your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones. These hormones make your brain more alert, cause your muscles to tense, and increase your pulse.”
Fast Ways to Reduce Stress
1. Drink a big glass of water.
Stress can cause dehydration. This is due to increased fluid loss in your body from heavier breathing and higher heart rate. In addition, when you are stressed, there’s a good chance you are not eating and drinking a well-balanced diet (or anything, for that matter). Dehydration also causes stress, as it can increase cortisol levels, headache, and fatigue. It’s a vicious circle.
Although a big glass of H2O will not eliminate the sources of your stress, it can definitely alleviate some of the ways your body responds to your circumstances. The stressors will continue, but your physical reaction to them will decrease.
If you find yourself in a high-stress situation, there’s a good possibility you haven’t kept up with your water consumption, and will benefit from both the water, and the momentary break that drinking gives you. Drink up!
How long does it take: less than a minute
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a huge advocate of meditation in daily living. It is an excellent stress reliever, and provides many other benefits as well.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. Many people think meditation is a complex process, but it can be as simple as sitting comfortably, focusing your thoughts, and breathing slowly. This enables you to control both the physical and mental impact of the stress you are feeling.
A quick YouTube search will provide many guided meditations you can access immediately, some specifically designed for stress relief.
How long does it take: two to twenty minutes, depending on your level of experience. Shorter is better for beginners.
3. Take a Few Long, Deep Breaths
If meditation is not your style, take a minute to focus on your breath. It will have much the same effect. Bonus: you can do this anywhere, anytime!
Take several long, slow, deep breaths. Inhale and exhale as slowly and completely as you can.
Box Breathing is a technique that is particularly effective and is simple to do. Breathe in for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Release for a count of four. Hold for a count of four.
Repeat several times. Not only does this focus on the breath (and not the thing that’s stressing you out!) help to calm you, but yo increase your oxygen intake, counteracting the shallow breathing you have probably been doing unawares.
How long does it take: about two minutes
4. Do a Brain Dump
What is a brain dump? Simply put, it is a way to take all the different responsibilities, activities, demands, and deadlines out of your head and into a document. This is particularly effective if your stress is caused by having too many responsibilities and are losing track of things you need to do.
This technique can get quite complicated and time-consuming (although the more detailed it becomes, the more effectively it controls stress.) In its most basic, quickest-acting form, it is a short exercise in writing down one big to-do list for your current situation.
Open a blank document on your computer (or go pen and paper, if you prefer). Write down everything – I mean everything – you have going on in your life right now. One giant to-do list with all your responsibilities included. Let this be a stream of consciousness exercise, and don’t get bogged down in the details of creating any sort of order. Just try to get everything in your head into a written form. This process alone will increase your feelings of control, thereby helping you to manage your stress.
After everything is in writing, you can choose what to do with it – sort by priority, add deadlines, cluster similar activities, etc. The first step is the most urgent, however – get this information out of your head and into writing.
How long does it take: fifteen minutes
“Get the important things right, and let the rest go.”Christina Carbonell, co-founder of Primary.com
5. Ask for Help
This is both the simplest technique on this list, and possibly the hardest one for most people to do.
In modern society, we often treat “having too much to do” as a positivie quality and look down on those that reject or cannot handle the “busy-ness” of life. This, unfortunately, tends to wear down on us eventually. There is nothing, I repeat – NOTHING – wrong with asking for help when you are stressed.
Very often, people are more than willing to help out because they know just how you feel when you are overwhelmed. If you don’t ask for help, however, they may not realize that you need it, or what they can do to help you.
It can seem hard to ask, but remember – if the shoe was on the other foot, would you be willing to help out a friend, family member or colleague that was feeling overwhelmed? So, just ask.
How long does it take: about two minutes
6. Get Moving
Movement of any sort will reduce stress hormones and stimulate the production of endorphins, which together help foster relaxation.
Take a short, fast walk or run. Dance to the most energetic song you know. Blast out some jumping jacks. Get on a bike and pedal your fastest.
Aim for a burst of energy-release.
How long does it take: five minutes
7. Use an Affirmation
Affirmations are simple words or sentences that provide emotional support or encouragement when repeated consistently.
By speaking or writing an affirmation, you are changing your thoughts from limiting beliefs to empowering ones and taking control of your response to the situations around you.
Choose one of the statements below that speaks best to how you want to feel. Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and repeat the affirmation several times. Alternatively, you can write it down. Either way, repeat at least ten times or until you begin to believe and trust in the affirmation.
- Everything is going to be okay.
- I have the power to manage my stress.
- I choose to respond to situations from a peaceful place.
- The end result is worth the stress I am currently feeling.
- I can manage my stress by moving forward.
- What’s Keeping You Awake at Night?
- Meditation Benefits for Midlife Women
- Meditation Tips for Beginners
Final Thoughts on 7 Fast Ways to Reduce Your Stress
Any one of these stress busters on its own will help control stress, but combining two or more would be even more effective. Personally, I always start with a big glass of water, and then move on to one of the other techniques. My favor is the brain dump because it gives me the greatest sense of control.
What stress buster works best for you?