A little bit of stress is good. It can motivate us to meet project deadlines or perform well on exams. On the other hand, too much stress can leave you spiraling out of control.
High levels of stress are counterproductive and detrimental to your health. If you find yourself in a very stressful situation, you might feel like there’s no way out—and this can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Fortunately, practicing a few coping mechanisms can help you calm down and get back to a stable and happy lifestyle.
Practice breathing techniques
You’ve heard it a million times by now, but there really is no better way to calm down from a highly stressful situation than to simply breathe. The mind and body are intimately connected via your nervous system, meaning thoughts illicit a physiological response and vice versa. When you’re in a stressful situation, negative thoughts can trigger symptoms like a rapid heart rate and quick, shallow breaths. On the other hand, taking slow, deep breaths can put your mind at ease and bring your heart rate back to normal.
Breathing techniques are designed to be easy so that you’ll remember them during times of extreme stress. However, you should practice them while you’re calm so you know exactly what to do in a stressful situation. Start off simple—inhale for three seconds, hold for one, then exhale for three more. Once you’re comfortable with this exercise, slowly increase the length of your exhale until it’s twice as long as the inhale. Doing daily meditation can help you make this type of coping mechanism second nature.
Visualize a calm image
Positive visualization is commonly known as going to your “happy place.” Some people visualize themselves in a calming environment like the beach. Others like to imagine a place they often visit like a park, nature trail or friend’s house. You might not choose a destination at all, instead imagining how you look and feel while you’re in a calm state of mind. This will give you a good idea of what mindset you want to achieve.
You can practice breathing techniques and positive visualization at the same time. Spend a few minutes slowing your heart rate with long, deep breaths. Once you get the hang of that, incorporate your calming image. If you can’t think of one, plant your feet on the ground and imagine roots growing from your soles, connecting you to the earth. This image helps you feel literally grounded and can stop your thoughts from spinning.
Find a change in scenery
Moving to a different location can instantly snap your mind out of a downward spiral. Look away from whatever is causing you stress or leave the room. If possible, step outside for some fresh air to clear your head. A new environment can disrupt stressful or anxious thoughts, which paves the way for a calmer mindset.
The environment itself can make your stress even worse. Stress levels escalate when we feel trapped in a crowded, hot and stuffy room. Being outdoors can offer some reprieve because you won’t feel claustrophobic, and air circulation will allow you to cool off a bit.
Write down your thoughts
Sometimes, the best way to handle stress is to let it all out. Don’t suppress your negative thoughts. Instead, write down exactly how you’re feeling in a journal.
These journals are usually private, so you can speak freely without judgment. The goal of this exercise is to dump all that stress out of your head and onto the page. You’ll feel much better afterwards!
Focus on your body
Snap out of your stress spiral by putting all your attention on your body. While you take deep breaths, focus on the movements of your body as each breath travels in and out. The diaphragm will expand and decompress while your shoulders rise and fall. Bodily awareness shifts your mind away from stressful, negative thoughts and keeps you grounded in reality.
You can also practice progressive muscle relaxation. There are many different ways to relax your muscles, so choose a technique that will be easy to remember in the heat of a stressful moment. One popular strategy involves a pattern of tension and release. Start with the toes and work your way up your body. Clench your toes as hard as you can, then relax them. Do the same with your legs, stomach, arms, shoulders and face until every muscle group is relaxed.
Stress is an inevitable part of life. No matter how hard you try, you’re bound to encounter a stressful situation at some point. The goal isn’t to spend your days running from people and events that may trigger stress. What matters more is how you react in the face of adversity. These simple tips offer instant stress relief so you can handle whatever life throws at you with confidence.