Updated: Jan 5
You all know the feeling when your stress level goes through the roof. The adrenaline rushes through your body as you try and deal with a whiny two-year-old, a tormenting teenager, the ticking watch on your wrist as you sit in traffic on the way to the doctor, or the deadline at work that seems impossible to make.
When stress strikes, try one of these techniques for a quick cool-down.
1. Practice breathing exercises
Focus on your breath, pushing all other thoughts aside. Be conscious of the breath coming in and going out, and focus on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling.
Or, try the square breathing technique:
Inhale your breath as you count to 4.
Hold your breath for 4 counts.
Exhale your breath slowly as you count to 4.
Hold your breath for 4 counts.
Repeat for a few minutes until you feel calm.
Meditation helps quiet your mind. During meditation, you don't react to your thoughts—you just notice them. To start, settle yourself into a comfortable, seated position and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, and then return to a steady, even breathing pattern. Focus on your breath going in and out, and return to that focus if your mind starts to wander. Even meditating for a minute can make a difference. If you want to try other forms of mediation like guided meditation, several free apps let you sample different meditation techniques.
Mindfulness helps you check in with yourself—practicing awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and senses in the moment without judging them. To start, do one thing mindfully each day. Pick a mundane activity like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth, and practice being present in those moments for two minutes.
4. Practice gratitude
We can't have joy in our lives without practicing gratitude. When practiced daily, gratitude helps to rewire your brain to think about the positives. Each day, write down three different things you're grateful for.
5. Call a support person
We are hardwired for connection—especially in times of stress. Call a friend or family member for a distraction or to unwind after a stressful day.
6. Do relaxation exercises
Sometimes known as progressive muscle relaxation, practice tensing and then releasing each of your muscle groups. If your body is physiologically relaxed, then you can't be stressed.
Exercise can be a great stress reliever that releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain) and helps you blow off steam. In particular, walking or running provide rhythmic movement that can help you readjust your focus and relieve stress. When you head out for a walk or run at a stressful time, it can provide a perspective that allows you to return to your situation in a new frame of mind.
8. Immerse yourself in a creative outlet
Doing something creative that you enjoy, like cooking, baking, coloring with colored pencils or doodling, or taking pictures, can give you a break in a stressful situation. For example, cooking or baking requires focus, concentration, and physical activity—especially if you're making bread or rolling out dough.
9. Express your feelings
Write about your stress in a journal. You also can journal about a positive experience that happened that day. This daily practice can help increase positive thinking and help to rewire your brain to think more positively.
10. Be in the moment with one of your senses
Sight, smell, sound, and taste—you'll be amazed how quickly the stress melts away when you focus on just one of them. Eat something that you crave and savor each bite. Light a scented candle and breathe in your favorite scent. Listen to a beautiful piece of music and let it take you away. Look at something beautiful in your surrounding that makes you stop and stare.
You also can practice the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. Name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things you smell, and one thing you taste. Engaging your 5 senses is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment and take your focus off your stress.
If one method doesn't work for you, try another. Learning to cool down takes practice. Be patient with yourself, and you will reap the benefits.
Get mental health support in Virtua Primary Care
Virtua Behavioral Health offers mental and behavioral health services in 13 Virtua Primary Care offices throughout South Jersey. To help meet patients' mental and emotional health needs, our primary care physicians refer their patients to licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) who work within the practice. These licensed professionals provide a range of psychotherapy services, including cognitive behavioral therapy and marital counseling, and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, mood disorders, and substance abuse.