Well-Being//

Surprisingly Effective Ways to Relieve Stress in 10 Seconds or Less

From unclenching your jaw to staring at a relaxing image, try these in-the-moment tricks the next time you feel overwhelmed.

Carol Yepes/ Getty Images
Carol Yepes/ Getty Images

The topic of stress feels ubiquitous these days, because the experience of stress is, too. Research shows that eight in 10 Americans consider themselves stressed, and 40 percent of us reported being more overwhelmed last year than the year before. Even the most Zen among us experience stress, but whether or not we let it get to us depends on how we handle it in the moment. It’s not always easy to find an immediate fix, but when it comes to that in-the-moment panic, having a few quick tricks on hand can be incredibly helpful.

We asked our Thrive community for their best 10-second stress relievers, and we loved hearing all the physical cues, relaxing mantras, and breathing techniques that do the trick. Give some of these a try the next time you feel underwater.

Step away for a moment

“What works for me is creating actual space between myself and what is causing my stress. I typically walk outside for some fresh air and perspective. This may mean walking away from your desk, a disruptive conversation, or even a tantruming toddler. The change of scenery will mark the end of what is stressing you and put you in an actual new head space. A few moments away is all you need to collect your thoughts and re-enter the situation with a fresh idea, a new perspective, and greater patience.”

—Kelly Schott, founder and CEO, San Diego, CA

Tap into your body’s reaction

“To relieve stress, I look within and notice if the stress is coming from fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, overwhelm. The answer is revealed to me by the sensation in my body. If my stomach is jumping, that may indicate fear. If my jaw is clenched, that may indicate anger. I spend ten seconds on noticing and being with the physical sensation.”

—Miriam Racquel (Meryl) Feldman, somatic healer, Chicago, IL

Pinch yourself to change your mood

“When I feel overwhelmed, a light pinch can instantly change my mood. Instead of thinking, ‘Pinch me, I must be dreaming,’ I say to myself, ‘Pinch me, I must not be present.’ In times of stress, it’s easy to let your thoughts and to-dos spiral out of control. So to return to the present moment, I lightly pinch my arm to remind myself to connect with my current surroundings and take one step at a time.”

—Melissa Muncy, content marketing, San Francisco, CA

Take a four-count breath

“I take a deep breath that’s felt in the lungs, belly and all the way into the back. Inhale through the nose for four counts, hold, and then exhale through the mouth for another four counts.”

—Stephanie Thoma, networking strategist, San Francisco, CA

Look at an image that sparks joy

“When I’m at work and I start to feel stressed, I look away from my screen and look at a picture of a serene beach scene I have taken from our family holiday and posted on my cubicle wall. Studies show that nature can relieve stress, and you don’t have to be in nature to benefit, but merely just looking at a picture of nature will also do the trick. Looking at the photo also gives my eyes a momentary rest from the glaring computer screen, and takes my mind back to a time of fun and happiness.”

—Madylene Planer, knowledge management, Sydney, Australia

Count to 10

“Counting to 10 is my most potent stress reliever, and I find it works in almost all — especially if the stress is being caused by a person in front of me or a situation that must be resolved immediately. Sometimes I even close my eyes, if the situation allows. Counting diverts my mind away from the situation for a couple of seconds and focus within. Once I realize I am reacting in the wrong way, the stress dissipates and I am ready to take the bull by the horn.”

—Shweta, freelance writer, India

Recall your past wins

“When I’m stressed or getting a tad panicky, I breathe deeply and think quickly of all the times in my life when I was faced with what seemed like daunting challenges and how I got through them. I remind myself of my inner strength and project myself into the moment when the ‘crisis’ has passed and think about how good it will feel. A client deadline or packing dilemma pales in comparison to a big exam, childbirth, or dealing with major health concerns. The past wins inspire me to keep going.”

—Nancy A. Shenker, marketing consultant and writer/speaker, Scottsdale, AZ

Give yourself a mini massage

“When I’m stressed, and feel my shoulders and upper back are tight, I take a tennis ball out of my desk, and roll it against the wall with my back. It’s a mini (and free!) massage.”

—Kristin E. Balistreri, investment management, Madison, WI

Listen to heavy metal

“This might not sound very Zen, but my secret stress reliever is listening to heavy metal: Megadeth, Metallica, Black Sabbath, you name it. It provides a conduit for my anxiety, stress and worry — a way for me to get it all out and, believe it or not, calm down and focus. I think of it as the mental equivalent of doing an intense workout. Plus, of course, I like the music. Now, if you were to look at me, this is probably the last thing you’d ever think I’d listen to, which makes me laugh, and relaxes me even more.”

—Dawn Yanek, content creator, Mt. Kisco, NY

Tap into an empowering mantra

“I remind myself that in each stressful situation is a lesson I need to learn about myself. I stop and think, ‘What am I supposed to learn here?’ Since doing this, my internal peace has profoundly changed for the better.”

—Amber Powers, digital marketing, Port St. Lucie, FL

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