Take a deep breath
Dealing with sudden stress—a phone call with bad news, a last-minute assignment from your boss, or an argument with your spouse—triggers a cascade of physical and mental symptoms that can be hard to stop. The first thing to do? Pay attention to your breathing pattern, and make an effort to start taking slow, deep breaths as stress relievers. “Breathing can change how we feel because emotions and breathing are closely connected,” says Emma Seppala, PhD, author of The Happiness Track and a Stanford University psychologist who’s done research on yogic breathing. “A revealing research study showed that different emotional states are associated with distinct respiration patterns.” In a follow-up study, participants actually started to feel the emotions that corresponded to an assigned breathing pattern. “This finding is revolutionary: We can change how we feel using our breath!” Dr. Seppala says. Deep breathing gets more oxygen to your brain and may lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Check your thoughts
When your thoughts start to spin out of control during a stressful moment, stop and reframe your thinking. “By your choice of perspective, you direct how your body will respond—in fight or flight, or in creative choices and solution-based responses,” says Lauren E. Miller, stress relief and personal excellence expert and the author of 5 Minutes to Stress Relief. If you’re stressed about something you fear happening, such as “I’m not going to get this project done and then my boss will fire me,” think instead of what a great opportunity it is to show your boss you’re a hard worker. “Resist the urge to cast yourself as the main character in dramas that have not even occurred,” Miller says. Also, instead of asking why something is happening, ask what you can do to fix it. “Asking ‘why’ pitches you in an endless loop of questions, whereas asking ‘what’ sets you into problem-solving mode,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living with Depression and a psychology professor at Adelphi University. “Moving forward instead of being lost in the circle of worries and “whys” helps to reduce stress.” Try these simple mindfulness stress relievers.