Between hectic work schedules, family demands, money troubles, and the constant barrage of news and social media, most people find themselves overwhelmed and stressed out on a regular basis. While eliminating all stress isn’t realistic, managing and relieving it swiftly is critical for both physical and mental health. According to psychologists and health experts, incorporating certain lifestyle habits and practicing specific techniques can provide fast-acting stress relief when you need it most.
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Take a Timeout
When you feel your stress levels rising, step away and take a break advises mindfulness expert Dr. Ellen Langer. “Give yourself permission to pause whatever you’re doing, even for just two to three minutes,” she says. Taking a timeout to briefly meditate, do breathing exercises, or simply drink a cup of tea allows surging stress hormones to subside and your rational thinking to resume command. Don’t force yourself to power through.
Exercise is one of the most effective instant stress relievers according to cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Thaik. Physical activity increases feel-good endorphins and other mood regulating brain chemicals. “Take a brisk 10 minute walk or even march in place to get your heart pumping,” Thaik recommends. Getting moving gives an immediate mood boost while also preventing chronic stress from harming your heart.
Laugh Out Loud
Laughter truly is great medicine when it comes to quickly defusing stress. Dr. Lee Berk, researcher at Loma Linda University, points to laughter’s ability to counteract stress hormones, reduce inflammation, and produce a major mood lift. Seek out humor from funny videos, comedy shows, chatting with someone playful, or reading comics. “You can’t feel anxious and laugh at the same time,” says Berk.
Hug it Out
Human connection and touch releases the hormone oxytocin that strongly promotes feelings of bonding, trust, and calm. Psychiatrist Dr. Virginia Clegg suggests hugging as one of the fastest ways to self-soothe when feeling overwhelmed. “Even just a short 20-second hug lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels,” she explains. Hugging also stimulates circulation and the release of endorphins.
Deep, abdominal breathing switches on your relaxation response by signaling the nervous system that all is well. Yoga instructor Savita Joshi advises taking just two to three minutes for deep breathing whenever you feel stressed. Inhale slowly counting to five, pause, then exhale for a count of six. Place your hand on your belly to ensure it expands fully. “This simple tool anyone can do quickly clears the mind and calms the body,” she says.
Listen to Music
Soothing music is an instant mood lifter and stress tamer. Music therapy professor Dr. Genevieve Cordero notes that calming music with lower tempos, like lounge jazz or gentle classical works, significantly lowers stress hormones and anxiety. Keep a relaxing playlist handy and pop in earbuds anytime your stress seems overwhelming. Let the chords wash away worries.
Get Zen with Pet Therapy
Having a pet lowers stress and caring for animals floods the brain with feel-good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. “Even just petting a dog or cat for a few minutes reduces anxiety significantly,” says veterinarian Dr. Michele Gaspar. Focusing on the soft fur and purring helps ground you in the present moment. If you can’t have a pet, hang out with a friend’s or visit a shelter.
Certain essential oil scents have immediate stress-busting effects. Licensed aromatherapist Susan Beck says oils like lavender, bergamot, and clary sage quickly enter the bloodstream when inhaled, binding to receptors that lower anxiety, slow heart rate, and relax muscles. Place a few drops in a diffuser or inhale directly from bottle when feeling overwhelmed. The instant mood lift helps reset your mindset.
Pursue a Passion
Engaging in any meaningful, creative activity you enjoy gives an immediate sense of engagement that makes stresses fade away. Dr. Kelly Lambert at University of Richmond finds pursing passions causes the brain to release dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that energize mood. Even just 10-15 minutes immersed in a hobby provides mental renewal. Gardening, painting, journaling – find whatever pursuit absorbs you fully.
Stress is unavoidable, but keeping these science-backed techniques in your toolkit allows you to press pause and reset anytime pressure hits. With a little practice, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to relieve stress quickly and stay balanced. Don’t let stress control your day. Instead, arm yourself with the power to control IT.