Throughout the day, you’re bound to run into something that stresses you out — whether it’s at home, at work, on your commute or as you’re running errands. Or maybe you’re dealing with a long-standing stressor. Or maybe there’s nothing in your environment that triggers your stress response, but internally, you still feel on edge.
Regardless, it helps to have a variety of healthy strategies you can turn to for calming yourself.
“Managing stress is one of the most important things people can do to improve their quality of life and health outcomes. So much of our immune system is linked to feelings of well-being and lack thereof,” according to Marcey Shapiro, MD, a family physician and author of Freedom from Anxiety.
Here are 10 quick strategies that can help.
1. Move every hour.
“Although it doesn’t seem stressful, sitting for long periods of time decreases the circulation of glucose and oxygen to the brain, robbing us of precious energy and causing a buildup of toxic stress hormones and inflammation, according to Heidi Hanna, PhD, a fellow with the American Institute of Stress and author of the book Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship With Stress.
She suggested moving your body for at least three to five minutes every hour. Practice light exercises at your desk (such as these), gently stretch, walk around the office or climb a few stairs, she said.
2. Check in with yourself.
Check in with yourself throughout the day to notice how you’re feeling physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, said Cynthia Ackrill, MD, president of WellSpark and a board member at the American Institute of Stress.
Scan your body. “Are any parts talking to you?” Maybe your shoulders are tense, and you need to stretch. Pay attention to the process of your thoughts. Are your thoughts racing? Tune into your emotions. How are you feeling? Tune into your spiritual needs. “Take a moment to remember what it is that grounds you.”
To remind you to check in, Ackrill suggested putting color dots on everything from the steering wheel to the fridge. Use the dot as a cue that it’s time to refocus on your needs. (Rotate the colors; our brains will ignore the same color after a while.)
According to Ackrill, it also helps to ask yourself: “How am I, and what do I need to be my best in this moment?” For instance, you might need a break.
“One of the quickest ways to trigger the relaxation response in the brain and body is to take a few deep breaths,” Hanna said. She suggested closing your eyes and counting breaths to a specific number or setting a timer and paying attention to how it feels to breathe.
“Don’t force deep breathing, as this in itself can be perceived as stressful, but rather focus your mental energy on the physical sensations in your body as you breathe.”
4. Compile a humorous collection.
We tend to think of humor as happening by chance. But humor is really a matter of choice, said Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, a speaker, neurohumorist and author of the What’s So Funny About… series. It’s also a tool that’s often overlooked, she said. “But it’s so powerful.”1
For instance, recently, Buxman’s flight was delayed — for the third time that day. While everyone was annoyed, she put on her headphones and started listening to David Sedaris at Carnegie Hall. “Within a few minutes, I was laughing hysterically.”
She suggested assembling a collection of authors, comedians, films and anything else that makes you laugh, and having it handy (like a playlist on your phone or videos bookmarked on your computer).
5. Try aromatherapy.
So many of us are sensitive to scent, and aromatherapy can help individuals move into a calmer state, Shapiro said. Lavender is the most common essential oil used for soothing anxiety, she said. Another popular oil for anxiety (and depression) is rose. You can add essential oils to baths or diffusers.
6. Create a playlist.
Create a playlist of songs that relax and calm you. Then “schedule recharge breaks throughout the day to listen to something and focus your mind on inspirational words or sounds that you hear,” Hanna said. Close your eyes to help you minimize distractions and pay attention to the present, she added.
7. Create a play list.
Write a list of 10 things that you find fun, which cost $5 or less, Buxman said. Create your list when you’re feeling good since it’s harder to think of what to do when you’re feeling crummy, she said. When you’re stressed out, pick one activity from your list.
8. Go herbal.
Shapiro suggested trying calming herbs such as vanilla, holy basil, oat straw and rhodiola. You can find these in teas or capsule form. Because so many people are deficient in magnesium — which is “calming to the nervous system” — she also recommended taking magnesium substrate or magnesium with glycine. (Shapiro likes the companies Gaia Herbs and Jarrow for buying herbs.)
9. Download funny apps.
Buxman uses the app iFunny, which lets you browse some of the funniest images from the Internet.
10. Try a self-compassionate gesture.
“Sending a little love your way several times throughout the day can be hugely powerful,” Ackrill said. She suggested putting your hand on your heart and saying whatever it is you need to hear, such as “I’m OK,” “I’m worthy” or “I’m loved.”