Overwhelmed? Overdrawn? Stress can often sneak up quietly, almost unnoticed. It can build so surreptitiously that you go from completely calm to barely-able-to-breathe with startling speed. But you don’t have to let tension take over. Here are 10 easy ways to unwind and chill out when you’re stretched too thin.
1. Have some fun with Fido.
2. Picture it from a different perspective.
Viewing a situation from a different lens — or “cognitive reframing,” as experts call it — may help you to put an alternate spin on it, which will tamp down your stress. To do this: Notice your thoughts. Catch yourself when you’re starting to spiral into negative thinking. “I didn’t get voted PTA president, I’m just not popular.” Challenge them. Examine the truth (or not!) of what you’re thinking. “Is not being voted PTA president really because no one likes me?” Replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. “Being PTA president wasn’t the right thing for me. Now I have plenty of time to focus on other things.”
3. Get busy in bed.
Having sex releases endorphins, brain chemicals that improve your mood and decrease symptoms of stress. (No instructions necessary!)
4. Know your ZYX’s.
Stop whatever you’re doing and recite the alphabet backward. It forces you to slow down and really concentrate. By the time you get to the letter A, you’ll be ready to face the world again.
5. Practice progressive muscle relaxation.
This age-old technique focuses on clenching then relaxing each muscle group. It can help you become aware of the physical sensation between muscle tension and relaxation. To do this: Start with your right foot. Focus on squeezing the muscles as hard as you can for about eight seconds by fanning out your toes and arching your foot, then relax them, letting the tension leave your body through that foot.
Move to your left foot. Squeeze and fan out the toes, then relax; as you let go, the stress moves out of your body. Next, focus on your calves — tense and relax — then your knees, thighs, all the while breathing steadily and calmly, in and out. Move up your body to your hips, stomach, back, fingertips, hands, etc. By the time you get to the top of your head, the tension should be gone entirely.
6. Take a hot bath.
Run a tub full of water as warm as you can stand it. Toss in your favorite scented bath oil (try lavender, rose, or even some chamomile tea bags) and “steep” yourself for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Have a snack.
Ever heard the term hangry? A dip in blood sugar can make you feel like you’re going to murder someone. Snack on something that will give you some quick, immediate fuel but won’t lead to a sugar crash later. Good options include half a turkey sandwich on high-fiber toast, a handful of almonds and raisins, or a low-fat yogurt parfait with granola.
8. Meditate for a minute.
You don’t have to be wearing a robe or sitting on a yoga mat to meditate. Try this, wherever you are, whenever you need a time out: Turn your phone to silent. Sit in a comfortable position and gently close your eyes. Let yourself feel relaxed in your body and the natural flow of your breath. Focus on your breath as it travels in and out of your body. Listen to the sound it makes. If you want to repeat a mantra like peace, joy, or love, feel free. Or, count the breaths in and out up to 10. Sit this way for a few minutes, as you appreciate the stillness. Slowly start to open your eyes as you feel your body come back to life.
9. Scan for stress.
Stop wherever you are, close your eyes, and figure out if you’re feeling stiffness anywhere in your body. When you track it down, imagine that this area is red. Take a deep breath and picture the body part changing from red to blue. As the color changes, feel the pressure dial down from tight to relaxed. Now, picture the blue becoming darker and deeper, as you relax further with each shade of blue. Open your eyes and see how relaxed you feel.
10. Jump rope.
It triggers your body to release endorphins that make you feel good. Plus, the rope’s repetitive motion can help you relax and focus. Grab a rope and see how many times you can jump without missing.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine Mindfulness for Women.