Simple Ways to Instantly Turn Around a Stressful Day

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try these in-the-moment strategies to shift gears.

Jacob Lund/ Shutterstock
Jacob Lund/ Shutterstock

Stress is inevitable, but we can prevent it from becoming cumulative. Research shows that in just 60 to 90 seconds, it’s possible to course correct from stress and reset our bodies and minds. So when you’re having a particularly overwhelming day, it’s essential to have a few strategies in your back pocket that help you quickly shift gears and reframe the moment.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the small in-the-moment tips that help them turn around a stressful day. Which of these will you try?

Look at a photo that makes you happy

“To turn around a stressful day, I like looking at a photo of a memorable moment, either from a past vacation, a family celebration, or a framed snapshot of my kids. It takes me back to a time and place that was filled with laughter, and it lets my mind wander for a few minutes.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, management and change consultant, France

Listen to a song you love

“We all have a favorite song that can take us from feeling miserable into a state of euphoria. With music comes movement and through movement, we reduce stress, anxiety and blood pressure. To shift the mood during stressful times, I use a ‘walk-on’ song that transforms that moment from blah to epic in just a few seconds. I press play on Rihanna’s Rockstar 101 and within seconds I will be out of my seat, dancing and singing. The day instantly transforms and I can get back to whatever I was working on without feeling stressed.” 

—Rachel Minion, head rockstarr and marketer, St. Augustine, FL

Try a two-minute brain dump

“Whenever I feel stressed, I stop what I’m doing and do a two-minute brain dump.  I get all the thoughts and tasks out of my head and onto paper.  As soon as it’s out of my head, it’s much easier to prioritize linearly, so the stress melts away and I can focus and move through the day thoughtfully.”

—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA

Take a break from your screens

“I have definitely noticed a correlation between my increased screen time and my stress levels during the pandemic. One of my favorite ways to reset during a stressful day is by taking a walk in the park, rain or shine. It grounds me, keeps me off my screen, slows down my thoughts, and leaves me feeling refreshed for the rest of the day.”

—Charlotte Swire, burnout expert and yoga teacher, Manchester, U.K.

Watch a video that makes you laugh

“My favorite way to diffuse stress is to laugh. Laughter can be hard to come by when we’re feeling stressed, but if we are proactive in taking the time out to make it happen then it can give a total shift in mood and really allow us to shake off the stress. Take a break to play a video that makes you laugh. It could be a video of your kids when they were little doing cute or silly things, your favorite comedians with the material that always has you in stitches, or bloopers from a comedy movie or TV show. After a laughter break, we’re unlikely to feel the same burden of stress.”

—Chloe Leibowitz, chief happiness officer at We Are Tabono, Hurley, U.K.

Give yourself a pep talk

“When I feel overwhelmed, I ground myself with affirming statements. Sometimes they are feeling centered, I am happy and whole. Other times they are more objective, such as ‘I am sitting in this chair and I am safe.’ Both bring me to the present moment.”

—Kim Regis, career coach and VP nurse executive, Columbus, OH

Pause and take a deep breath

“For me, pausing and taking a deep breath is my number one strategy for recovering from stressful situations. I can’t use any of my other tools without pausing first. Being able to catch my breath tells my body that I’m safe. It gets me out of fight-or-flight mode so I can access my frontal lobe. That way, my human brain can take over and my lizard brain is no longer in charge.”

—Barb Nangle, coach and podcast host, New Haven, CT

Have a solo dance party 

“One of my favorite ways to turn a stressful day around is to dance it out. I put on a song and just let my body move. Some days it turns into a full-on solo dance party and other days it’s just a time to literally shake the stress out of my body. When the song finishes, I take a moment to stand, be still, and focus on my breath. I can feel a shift mentally, physically, and emotionally. I feel lighter, grounded, and ready to take on the day again.”

—Stephanie Simpson, coach, speaker, consultant, New York, N.Y.

Go on a walk outside

“To turn around a stressful day, I walk outside and sit on a bench or on the curb, or lean against the wall.  I close my eyes and listen to the sounds for about a minute. It’s usually a mix of urban and nature sounds.  Some talking, some laughing, maybe a whistle.  A bird song. A dog bark. A car horn. This grounds me in the moment. I then go back inside to get to my originally scheduled programming with a tad more perspective.”

—Donna Peters, former senior partner management consulting, executive coach, Atlanta, GA

Do one task you can accomplish immediately

“I do at least one task where I can 100% control the outcome. The things that stress us out the most are those outside of our control, but there are so many things that we can control. For example, I had a very frustrating situation happen yesterday, and rather than continue to stew on it, I did tasks around the house that I could control: folding the laundry, feeding the dogs, and cleaning the countertops. These are small actions but they are things that can be accomplished to your personal level of satisfaction and can be done immediately. That little sense of accomplishment can add up and quickly turn around my mood.”

—Channing Muller, marketing and PR consultant and soon-to-be author, Chattanooga, TN

Carve out a 60-second pause

“My number one tip that helps alleviate stress is to find a quiet spot and simply take 60 seconds for myself. This used to be the stairwell at my office and now is often my bathroom at home. I take that time to breathe deeply and just allow myself time for me. There is something magical that happens when we intentionally give time back to ourselves to just take a deep breath. The act of taking care of yourself, even for a brief moment, can shift your energy completely.”

—Dmitria Burby, author and transformational coach, Portland, OR

Take a moment for gratitude

“When a stressful moment occurs, I find a quiet space, close my eyes, and take three deep breaths. Next, I slow my breathing and visualize people worldwide who are suffering from far worse and try to imagine what it’s like to face the challenges they have every day. Then, I express gratitude for what I have in life, and my stress levels are minimized.”

—James Petrossi, human development coach, Austin, TX

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