In today's hyper-connected world, we're pretty literate about stress and anxiety, right? We know what stress feels like, what it does to our body, and what we should be doing to manage it. The problem is that when anxiety comes on suddenly, it's too late to get more sleep or eat a bunch of kale. We need techniques that work right now. Kind of like magic. But does anything actually work?
Thankfully, science says yes. These five relaxation techniques have been proven to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and ease your anxiety in as little as two minutes. Sound too good to be true? Give them a test drive and find out for yourself.
1. Put Your Stress on Paper
Writing down your worry helps stop the snowball of stress in your head. Seeing the issue on paper enables you to process it in your problem-solving pre-frontal cortex, instead of just feeling overwhelmed in your emotional amygdala. The research says this strategy works best if you write by hand, but tapping a quick note into your smartphone can help, too.
What should you do with your tension-filled text? Many people get relief from just getting the situation outside of their skull, but doing something with it can have additional benefits. Try bringing your stress list to a trusted friend or therapist. Debrief what happened and how you handled it. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to take this small step to help your anxiety, even if you can’t control the situation that caused it.
We’ve all been told to “take a deep breath,” but have you ever found it hard to do? If you tune into your breathing when you’re really stressed, you might get hung up on how shallow and tight your chest feels, and conclude that you suck at relaxing. No worries—this is totally normal. With a tiny tweak to your approach, you can access that much-needed Zen in your body. Just try a super-soothing guidance system, like these:
3. Shake that Body
Low-to-medium intensity movement gives your body chemistry just the right nudge to reduce anxiety. Activities like yoga or walking are perfect to lower your cortisol levels and boost your endorphins. As little as ten minutes of movement can shift your headspace for a couple of hours.
Interestingly, the science shows you should avoid a high-intensity workout when you're in the throes of anxiety since it will actually increase your cortisol levels. The magic number seems to be about 40% of your maximum cardio capacity if you happen to be wearing a heart rate monitor. Who isn't, right?
● Go for a walk around the block
● Do a minute or so of push-ups, sit-ups, or squats
● Follow a short video from this free yoga channel
4. Get Grounded
One of the most powerful methods for reducing anxiety is grounding, which means digging into your senses for an intense distraction. Therapists use this technique in sessions when clients get overwhelmed with emotion and teach them to do it on their own whenever needed. The key is to focus completely on a physical sensation. This distraction shifts your brain processing and bumps you out of stressing mode. A few tried-and-true methods for making the grounding leap include:
● Hold onto an ice cube for as long as you can
● Use aromatherapy, especially lavender
● Do a quick exercise called, “Come to Your Senses”
● Hold a challenging pose, like a squat or plank, until you feel the burn
5. Go into the Flow
One of the most surprising science-backed stress-relief strategies is Tetris. Similar to the grounding technique above, a recent study on reducing anxiety looked at ways to quickly shift out of distress by inducing a state of “flow,” or deep engagement in an activity. The most successful tool for flipping the switch was a game of Tetris, but there was a caveat – the game couldn’t be too hard (frustrating), or too easy (boring). Flow only came when the difficulty level was customized so the individual found the game perfectly satisfying and engrossing.
Can you believe how fun your next anxiety attack is going to be? Just kidding. But still. Tetris is great, right?
You Do You
Now, if you’re a pro worrier, you probably have one last question: what if you try a technique and it doesn’t chill you out? No worries. The research says the best approach is whatever suits you in the moment. So, choose a few tricks to keep in your emergency relaxation kit, and you’ll be set.
Next time you get desperate for stress relief, give yourself two minutes and kidnap your attention. Snort up some lavender, juggle an ice cube, or conquer the next level of those weird Russian blocks. Anything that sucks you out of the worry spiral and deposits you back in the here and now will help you deal with anxiety and get back in the flow of your life. You’ve got this.