I think it’s fair to say that most of us feel stressed out about one thing or another on quite a regular basis.
It might be due to pressures of work, or money, or keeping the house in order while raising children. Whatever the reason behind it, studies have found that 85% of adults in the UK are regularly feeling stressed.
There are all sorts of things we can do long term to help with stress, but what about those times when it all suddenly gets too much and you need a way to calm yourself down quickly?
Here are 5 ideas for things you can try to help you quickly feel better when you’re stressed out.
1. Turn to nature
If you can, head outside to a green space for a few minutes.
Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and help us feel calmer. So if you can, find a green space outside and spend a few minutes connecting with nature.
If you’re not able to physically go outside, say you’re stuck at your desk at work for example, then just looking at a photo of a scene from nature can have the same effect.
A study carried out at VU University in Amsterdam found that just 5 minutes of looking at a nature scene can help us recover from stress more quickly. The participants in the study who viewed pictures of trees found their heart rate and blood pressure recovered from a stressful event more quickly than those who looked at urban scenes.
So it might be worth choosing a nice woodland or park scene to use as the wallpaper on your work computer, or keeping a photo of your children in a pretty outdoor location on your desk to look at when you start to feel stressed.
When something stresses us out we tend to experience the flight or fight response.
This is basically where our bodies get ready for either fighting or running away from the cause of the stress. So your heart starts to beat faster and your muscles tense up ready for action.
When you feel your body starting to react in this way you can calm yourself down by focusing on your breathing.
There’s a large nerve that runs through your body, connecting your brain with your heart, lungs, gut and other major organs. It’s called the vagus nerve, and it’s part of your parasympathetic nervous system which helps to slow down that fight or flight response.
You can activate the vagus nerve with slow, rhythmic breathing.
Try breathing in for a count of 5, holding that breath for a count of 2 and then gently breathing out for a count of 6.
This will help to tell your brain that you’re not in any immediate danger, and so have no need to fight or to run, and you will start to feel calmer again.
3. Do some star jumps
The other alternative to deal with the fight or flight response is to get active.
When the adrenaline starts pumping round your body then use it up by quickly doing some physical activity.
Kathleen Hall, chief executive of The Stress Institute in Atlanta, has suggested that you keep a skipping rope in your office so you can do 60 seconds of fast skipping when you need to relieve stress quickly.
If you don’t have the luxury of a private office for a spot of skipping then see if you can find a place to do a few star jumps or press ups.
A power walk round the block would also do the trick.
“Exercise relaxes tense muscles that become tight and rigid when you experience stress. Exercise delivers oxygen to the brain, vital organs and muscles immediately and produces endorphins that soothe your mind, body and soul.”
4. Stand up tall and clench your right fist
Have you heard about power poses before? They’re basically ways of posing your body that are normally quite expansive and open, that make you feel more confident and less anxious. If you’re feeling stressed before an interview, follow researcher Amy Cuddy’s advice and take a few minutes to stand like wonder woman to give yourself a confidence boost.
Even just simply sitting up straight can help in the fight against stress.
A study published in the journal ‘Health Psychology’ found that people who sat upright while doing some high-pressure tasks had fewer negative thoughts and feelings than those who sat slouched down in their chairs.
While you’re busy perfecting your posture, try clenching and unclenching your right hand a few times.
Doing this activates the left side of your brain, which is the more logical side. When you’re feeling stressed and scared, the right brain is more active as this is the part that deals with our emotions. So activating the left side of your brain can help you to calm down and think more logically about the situation you’re in.
5. Focus on three things you can see around you
Mindfulness has become more and more popular over the last few years, and it’s a great way to deal with stress and anxiety.
You can apply the principles of mindfulness when you need to de-stress quickly by looking around you and describing three things that you can see. You want to be trying to describe the things in terms of their shape, size, colour etc.
So if you’re in the office you can focus on the blue of the chair you’re sitting on, and how the fabric of the seat feels when you touch it and how it supports your back when you recline in it. Or take a sip of your cup of tea and focus on how hot it is, how the cup fits in your hand and what colour it is.
This exercise forces your attention away from the things that are making you feel anxious and stressed and instead makes you focus on the present moment and non-emotional, neutral aspects of experience.
Next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, or just suddenly feel overwhelmed and stressed out by life in general, give one of these five quick tricks a try. You should be starting to feel calmer in no time.