Stress is an interesting thing. While a moderate amount of it can boost our productivity and creativity, we all know that too much can backfire. When stress becomes overwhelming, it can stop us in our tracks, leading to burnout and making even the most mundane tasks feel daunting (errand paralysis, anyone?).
Many of us have some useful tricks up our sleeve to calm our brains when stress levels spike. So we asked members of the Thrive Global community to tell us about the small habits that never fail to calm and de-stress them in the moment.
Say this hopeful phrase
“Whenever I get stressed or start obsessing over a situation, I remember a story I read about an ancient African tribe. Apparently, they would teach their children to say this phrase when they felt frightened or threatened: ‘This is a story that doesn’t need to happen.’ It would help them remember that they are in control of their thoughts. So the next time you start spinning stories in your mind that are taking you to crazy town, say to yourself, ‘This is a story that doesn’t need to happen.’ Works for me every time!”
—Camille Sacco, mindful meditation instructor and author, Winter Park, FL
Release your stress with your hands
“I look at my surroundings and notice the inherent beauty around me. I remind myself that ‘this too, shall pass’ and I won’t be dealing with whatever it is forever, and I actually clench my hands and then release to the universe whatever it is I’m holding onto or stressing over.”
—Lisa Kohn, coach and consultant, Wayne, PA
Blow some bubbles
“Blowing bubbles is an instant stress-buster for me. I keep bottles in my desk and my car. Nothing puts a smile on someone’s face faster than blowing bubbles and expelling all the hot air!”
—Lisa Cypers Kamen, optimal lifestyle management expert, Los Angeles, CA
Pinch yourself to change your mood
“Stress is inevitable, but with a pinch, a smile, and a celebration, anyone can ditch frustration and anxiety for more calm and enjoyable feelings. The pinch: the moment you feel yourself worrying about your future, pinch the skin between your thumb and index finger. Not too hard, but just hard enough to get your attention. Then, focus on the feeling. This one little trick can instantly transport you back to the present, let go of worry, and remind yourself to enjoy the moment. A smile: smiling can actually change your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system, and even prolong your life. When you smile, a chemical reaction in the brain releases hormones, including dopamine, which increases happiness. So stop frowning and strap on your best accessory — a smile. Lastly, celebrate your to-do-list. I suggest breaking it down into smaller chunks and organizing it into tasks you can quickly complete. As each item is checked off, celebrate the accomplishment. Verbally congratulate yourself, treat yourself to a specialty coffee or even share your good news with a friend. This way, instead of fretting over the list, you actually enjoy completing it!”
—Heidi Allen, motivational speaker and founder, Ontario, Canada
Do a “pattern interrupt”
“Here’s the small trick I use when stress floods my thoughts with all the things that could go wrong, instead of allowing things to play themselves out: I do a pattern interrupt in my brain and say: ‘Not today!’ The negative thoughts will always show up, but it’s up to me to decide if they will stress me out or I’ll stay focused and present in the moment. This gives me instant relief.”
—Kareen Walsh, growth strategist, Greenwich, CT
Take your pulse
“When I feel stress hitting my body and my brain (like before an important presentation, a client meeting, etc.), I discreetly take my wrist pulse. It only takes one second to find it, and when I feel my heartbeat under my fingers, my brain says, ‘everything is ok — it’s not a matter of life or death. You’re alive, you’re fine and if you are in this situation, it means you can handle it!’ Then I take a few deep breaths (which really relieves stress for me). Thanks to this, stress is less important and I’m much more focused on my objectives.”
—Anne-Helene Scouarnec, freelance HR advisor, Paris, France
View the problem in isolation
“When I’m feeling overwhelmed, my main challenge is to maintain perspective and view the particular issue in isolation. For example, when something goes wrong at work, it can be very easy to let my mood take over and feel like all aspects of my life are in crisis. But I try to view the ‘crisis’ issue as a stand-alone, maintain positive thoughts, and be thankful for other aspects of my life. As with any mindfulness method, this takes practice, but by staying in the moment and viewing it as just a ‘bad moment,’ rather than a bad day, year or life, this helps me focus on a solution and move forward.”
—Ellen Shearman, HR coordinator, London, England
Keep a “mood journal” to track what stresses you
“I keep a daily ‘mood journal’ to track the specific things that stress me out or upset me (as well as my great moods, of course). When I feel the demon of stress coming on, my anxiety immediately skyrockets. So I simply take a very deep breath and rapidly think through the worst possible outcomes and ‘take a long view.’ This technique, which my father taught me in eighth grade when I was stressed about a science test, still works!
—Nancy A. Shenker, marketing consultant and writer/speaker, Scottsdale, AZ
Walk it off
“Taking walks on a daily basis, ranging from five-minute stairwell reps to 30-minute meanderings around my work campus, helps me gather my thoughts, make a plan of action, and get right back to work feeling a lot more rejuvenated.”
—Liesl Hammer, digital content specialist, Salt Lake City, UT
Put it in a doc
“When I feel myself getting stuck on a task or if my body tenses up — specifically in my face — I know I’m stressed. So I write to help combat this. I open a new Word document in my personal account and take about five minutes to essentially ‘rant.’ I focus on how I’m feeling at the moment and I don’t direct my writing to anyone. Once I’m done, I feel a huge sense of relief and my body is more relaxed.”
—Tiare Fuentes, digital marketer, Los Angeles, CA
Take one breath
“I was a distance runner long before my mindfulness training. My coach told me that if I just focused on my breath, I could run faster than the girl in front of me. It worked. He also told me to do it before a test and when I didn’t know the answer, to take a deep breath and wait for something to ‘show up.’ His advice has been an anchor in my life.
Little did I know, some 40 years later, I would be teaching that same advice. I tell my own kids and students to take one breath. Just one. They take another if they need to, but should repeat until that moment feels manageable. I’m not asking for a specific number or length of time, simply a single-breath, and then to check in. I don’t want them to focus on the numbers, but rather, on how they feel. Do they feel grounded? Centered?
Breathing works the brain and our parasympathetic system, offering immediate results. One breath alone may not solve the world’s problems, but will help in this moment — and that’s really all we have.”
—Renee Tarantowski, mindfulness teacher, Chicagoland, IL
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.