Flush anxiety away in seconds with these incredibly simple acts.
Feeling tense? You’re not alone. The American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America report reveals that more Americans are feeling stressed than ever, and the intensity of that anxiety is also increasing.
Whether you’re worried about the economy, health issues, or political climate, stress can manifest in a range of physical and mental symptoms, including headaches, upset stomach, muscular tension, restlessness, irritability, and social withdrawal.
But there’s some good news amid all this anxiety: Scientists understand the root causes of stress—and how best to relieve it—better than ever. In other words, our stress may be increasing, but so is our ability to cope with it.
The next time your anxiety levels start creeping up, try any of these tips for fast relief. If you’re unable to tame your tension on your own or you continue to experience stress symptoms, talk to your doctor about intervention strategies like therapy.
1. Crack a Smile, Even if It’s Fake
You may be less likely to put on a happy face when you’re feeling stressed, but doing so might be one of the quickest ways to calm down. A University of Kansas study found the simple act of smiling can lower your heart rate and may reduce levels of stress. In other words, smiling might act as a buffer that limits the physical and emotional effects of being exposed to a stressful situation.
If you’re bogged down by stress, try to literally grin and bear it. You’ll still enjoy some stress-busting benefits if your smile is fake, but the most powerful smiles are the genuine ones that involve your eyes.
2. Fill Your Belly with Air
Deep breathing just might be the best stress reliever you’re not using. Harvard researchers found that practicing controlled breathing can help the body slow down its heartbeat, limit the production of stress hormones, and trigger the relaxation response. The best part: You can do it anywhere, anytime.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, take a few minutes to sit quietly and inhale, allowing your belly to rise before your chest. When your lungs feel naturally full, take in even more air. Hold briefly, then exhale. When you feel your lungs are empty, push out even more air to a count of 10 until you have made your lungs as empty as possible. Repeat at least two more times.
Dealing with neck tension or carpal tunnel pain? Deep breathing can help with that too.
3. Spend Time with a Furry Friend
Not only do pets provide us with loving companionship, but a large body of research shows spending time with a friendly animal, dogs in particular, can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In fact, a five- to 20-minute interaction is all it takes to reap the benefits of reduced cortisol levels.
Don’t own a pet? No problem! Hanging out with an unfamiliar dog can still help tame stress. Ask a friend if you can borrow theirs for an hour or two, or consider volunteering at your local animal shelter. In addition to cutting stress, you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you’re making another living creature’s life just a little bit better.
4. Put Fresh Flowers on the Kitchen Table
Fresh daisies, tulips, and roses do more than just brighten up the room—they also lift your mood. Research from Harvard University found that simply looking at a vase of fresh flowers can reduce feelings of stress, increase happiness, and even provide an energy boost.
Exposure to flowers first thing in the morning had a particularly big impact, so place a bouquet on your bedside table or wherever you eat breakfast to set yourself up for a low-stress, high-energy day. Cutting your own flowers? Use these gardening tips.
5. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in your body: upper arm, chest, back, abdominals, lower arm, and so on. It helps to start with your head and work your way down to your toes, or go in the opposite direction by starting with your toes and working your way up to your head. Either way, spending a few seconds on each area. This technique is based on the idea that the mind follows the body. When you relax your body, the mind also clears.
Bonus: Research shows progressive muscle relaxation can also help ease chronic pain, improve body awareness, and help you sleep.
6. Write Down Your Worries
A pen and paper can be powerful medicine. Research documented by the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that journaling or expressive writing can help people stress less, manage anxiety, and cope with feelings of depression. And you don’t have to write much. Simply jotting down what’s on your mind can help you identify negative thoughts or behaviors and choose more positive approaches instead. It also helps you organize your thoughts so your mind feels less overwhelmed.
There’s no one right way to journal. What you write is really up to you. Afraid of someone seeing your most private thoughts? Write down your negative thoughts—and then throw out (or recycle!) the piece of paper. Researchers from Ohio State University found this helps ease those negative thoughts.
Another option: Make a gratitude list, which can also boost your mood.