No matter how many yoga classes you go to or how calm you try to stay, life is going to throw some stressful moments at you. One day you might realize you totally forgot about a work presentation due in an hour while the other you might get a call from your child’s teacher about some issues your kid is having in school. But whenever something like that happens and you start to tense up, there are things you can do to stop the stress in its tracks. Everyone is different, so try a few of these to see what works best for you:
Breathe it out.
The key here is using all of your lungs, not just the top part. “When you take a relaxed diaphragmatic breath that expands into the lower part of your lungs, you get good oxygen exchange, your heart doesn’t have to work so hard, and your blood pressure and heart rate go down,” says Alice Domar, PhD, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health. Try it by taking a slow deep breath, expanding your chest and belly, while counting to four. Then, as you exhale, count back down to one. Do that three or four times and you’ll start feeling better.
Open up the Fitbit app.
Need a little more guidance? If you have a Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Charge 2, or Fitbit Charge 3, Ionic, or Versa, head to the Relax app and follow along one of the guided breathing session. The app monitors your heart rate and comes up with a personalized breathing pattern to help you feel better in as little as two minutes (there’s also a five-minute session if you want to go longer).
Put on a happy face.
“Smiling can be a quick, impactful strategy because several of the muscles in the face are connected to the vagus nerve, which facilitates relaxation,” says Heidi Hanna, PhD, executive director of the American Institute of Stress and author of Stressaholic. Can’t get yourself to actually grin in the moment? Try to imagine doing it. “Even just thinking about smiling on the inside can gently stimulate those muscles to help you relax—and may even cue a real smile!” she says.
Get your brain to help.
“If you’re in freak-out mode, I recommend something I call stop, breathe, reflect, choose,” says Dr. Domar. Here’s how it works: First, visualize an actual stop sign. Then take a few slow, deep breaths. Next, reflect by asking yourself what’s really going on and causing you to panic. Lastly, ask what you can do right now, in the moment, to help yourself feel better—like calling a friend or taking a walk. “Your mind automatically goes to worst case scenario, but that doesn’t do a lot of good,” says Dr. Domar. “This process can help stop you from panicking.”
“With acute stress, you can’t always just think it away and tell yourself to calm down,” says Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of Breathe. “When stressed, your body acts as if there’s a physically dangerous situation—hence the fight-or-flight response. Doing something physical can make it a lot easier to calm down.” Her suggestion: Run around the block, do 10 burpees, or find some other burst of activity that will metabolize the stress response. The result: A calmer, happier you.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.