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How to feel calmer in minutes

Woman stretching to calm down

When you’re super stressed or worried, these simple tips can help relax you in no time.

Karen Asp

By Karen Asp

There’s a lot happening in the world right now. So, it’s no surprise that stress and worry are on the rise among Americans. But what can you do when you need to reset and find some calm?

There is no right answer to this question. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. That’s why it helps to have a few tricks to pull out when stress becomes too much.

These 10 strategies are all worth a try. Mix and match to find your favorite way to calm down. 

1. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

When you’re worried and stressed, your body often tenses up. By doing PMR, you can let go of some of that tension. But first you must tighten your muscles even more before you relax them. This may sound odd. Yet a recent study found that it can decrease stress and anxiety (worry).

You start by sitting or lying down. Take a breath and squeeze one group of muscles. Perhaps start with your feet. Hold for five to 10 seconds. As you breathe out, relax those muscles for 10 to 20 seconds. Now move on to the next muscle group. Repeat until you’ve hit most of the muscles in your body. (Need extra help loosening up tight muscles? Check out the pain-relieving gear and massagers from the Optum Store.)

2. Box breathing

You may have heard that deep breathing helps when you feel stressed. Box breathing is a type of deep breathing you might do in a yoga class. Just as a box has four sides, here you breathe in four steps:

  • Breathe in slowly for four counts.
  • Hold your breath for four counts.
  • Breathe out slowly for four counts.
  • Hold your breath for four counts.

Repeat the sequence as many times as needed.

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3. Be mindful for one minute

Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus only on the here and now. Research shows that mindfulness can decrease worry and stress. The cool part: You can do it during almost any activity.

Try it in the morning when you’re having your coffee. Focus on what you’re hearing, seeing, smelling and touching in that moment. You can try it in the shower or even when you’re doing dishes.

4. Listen to music

Pop in those earbuds and turn on your favorite tunes. Listening to relaxing music can help you bounce back more quickly from stress.

5. Rethink your posture

Your body language says a lot about your mood. When you have negative emotions, your posture often collapses. Your shoulders round, and you slouch. That position can keep those tough feelings hanging around. To help let them go, simply sit or stand taller. (Have neck pain from hunching over your computer or phone? Find out how to get rid of it.)

6. Take a nature break

Nature may be one of the best buffers against stress. And it’s there for everyone. Being out in nature for a few minutes has been proved to reduce stress levels. (If you live in a city, your local park or green space counts.) Just seeing pictures of nature can reduce stress. If you can’t get outside, look out the window and take in the view.

7. Practice cue-controlled relaxation

Start by thinking of a word that you associate with deep relaxation. Maybe it’s “peace” or “beach.” Once you have your word, start breathing deeply. As you breathe out, say your word. Repeat this until you feel relaxed. Over time, your body and mind will begin to relax as soon as you say the cue word. You’ll be able to feel better even faster.

8. Move your body

It’s no secret that exercise can be a stress reliever. But you can get benefits without having to take a fitness class or go for a run. Just moving your body for a minute or two can help. Take a quick stroll around the block (or even around your house or the office). Do simple stretches. Turn on some tunes and dance. Play chase with your dog or kids.

9. Ask for a hug

Human touch is a powerful antidote to stress. It can even help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to one study. Not into hugging or do you live alone? Placing your hand on your heart can have a similar effect.

10. Pet an animal

When you need to find instant calm, turn to your cat or dog. Snuggling with cats and dogs for 10 minutes eases stress in college students, according to one study. But we bet you’ll start feeling better even faster. They’re called fur babies for a reason.

You can’t completely cut stress from your life, but you can learn to manage it. Find support now

 

Additional sources:

Stress in America: American Psychological Association

Mindfulness meditation: American Psychological Association

Washing dishes and mindfulness: Mindfulness (2014). "Washing dishes to wash the dishes"

Music and stress: PLoS One

Posture and stress: Health Psychology (2015). "Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial" 

Nature and stress: International Journal of Environmental Research (2015). "Autonomic nervous system responses to viewing green and built settings" 

Cue-controlled relaxation: Psychology Today (2021). "How just one word can help calm an anxious mind" 

Pets and stress: Washington State Universit (2019). "Study demonstrates stress reduction benefits from petting dogs, cats"