When our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode in response to stressful situations, our hearts beat faster, our blood pressure goes up and our breathing quickens. These physiological changes are triggered to prepare us for danger — whether the danger is as intimidating as a ferocious lion or as harmless as a traffic jam. While these responses can be helpful in the presence of a real threat, researchers say, experiencing them on a consistent basis can wreak havoc on our overall health, putting us at risk for anxiety, depression and even heart disease.While there are many recommendations for living a stress-free life, from maintaining work-life balance to getting enough sleep, it’s useful to know some quick and easy strategies you can employ for immediate stress relief. These five practices will help bust stress in the heat of the moment and can be used anywhere at anytime.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, try activating the “relaxation response” with the help of breathing. Close your eyes and take deep abdominal breaths. If it helps, close your eyes and breathe in fully, wait for three seconds and then exhale. The American Institute of Stress explains that deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brains and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Exercise releases endorphins, those “feel-good” hormones that produce the feeling often referred to as a “runner’s high.” When you’re under stress, try literally stepping away from whatever is causing it and taking a brisk walk. Some psychologists suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as effective as a 45-minute workout for relieving stress and anxiety, providing several hours of relief.
Researchers at Stanford University have found that listening to music can change brain functioning, especially in relation to stress. Soothing music — including Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums and flutes — has been proven to reduce stress, even when played moderately loud. Nature sounds, such as rain and crashing waves, similarly can help to quell the stress response.
Research shows that almost 20 percent of people with social media accounts cannot go more than three hours without checking them. While Facebook, Instagram and other sites can sometimes help you feel more connected to others, social media can cause or worsen stress. When presented with the picture-perfect lives of others, we might think that our own lives pale in comparison, or we might experience FOMO — the “fear of missing out” — which can cause stress. But it’s not only envy that’s to blame. If our social media feed is riddled with stressful news from friends and family, the “cost of caring” may lead to secondhand stress.
While the above strategies may help to relieve stress right when it happens, it’s recommended to commit to a stress-free lifestyle by practicing these and other strategies daily. Aim to get proper sleep, exercise often, eat well and maintain a reliable network of family and friends to ensure your stress response doesn’t get triggered in the first place — unless you come across a lion.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist. Her work has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Health, The Telegraph and VICE. She lives in Los Angeles.