How to Stay Relaxed in Times of Stress

Two Methods:Changing Your ThoughtsChanging Your Behaviors

Sometimes stress is long-lasting and persistent and the feelings of stress become heavy and are especially burdensome. In these times it is especially important that you do your best to reduce stress and be as relaxed as possible given your current circumstances.

Method 1
Changing Your Thoughts

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    If possible, disengage from your stressor(s). One way to be more relaxed is to, when possible, remove yourself from the situation. For example, if you are in a big fight with your partner, you could excuse yourself and say something like "This is really stressing me out and I just need a 30 minute break to help clear my head and calm down, then I will gladly continue the conversation." [1]
    • Keep in mind that it may not always be possible to disengage from your stressful situation, but try to look for little breaks where you can get them.
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    Take a bubble bath. Use your favorite shampoo or bubble bath formula and let the bubbles fill the tub. Just sink in and close your eyes and do your best to get your mind off whatever has been stressing you out.
    • Try to keep in mind that, in the current moment, all that matters is you enjoying and relaxing in your bath. You can deal with your problems another time; what matters now is pure relaxation.
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    Take in some fresh air. Try to let your mind go free while thinking of the nature that you are in. If it is sunny out, soak up those rays. If it is raining, listen closely to the pounding of the raindrops on the things in your environment. If it is cold, watch your breath as you breathe slowly in and out. The key is to be present in the moment, with nature, so as to clear your mind from what you are stressed about.
    • Studies show that being in awe of nature can be good for your health; this can combat the negative health impacts of stress and help increase your well-being.[2]
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    Fill your mind with positive feelings. Stress and negative feelings often go hand in hand; one way to be more relaxed and combat your stress is to try to make yourself feel happier with some tricks of the trade. There are a few different ways to feel more positive:
    • Try smiling. The facial feedback hypothesis suggests there is a bi-directional relationship between the facial muscles and emotions. While typically you feel happy and so smile, you can also smile to feel happy.[3] To force yourself to smile, you can try holding a pencil between your teeth so that the eraser part is at the left side of your mouth and the writing part is at the right side of your mouth.
    • Spend money or some of your time on other people. Research shows that doing so can increase the happiness of the donor.[4]
    • Do some physical activity to get your endorphin levels up, which can make you feel happier.[5]
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    Choose your response. Generally, you can do one of two things when faced with stress: you can try to change the situation or your response to it.[6] Sometimes, you may be powerless to change the source of your stress, but in these cases you can still choose how to respond to the stressors. Consider some questions when deciding your approach.[7]
    • Can you avoid the stressor? This isn't always appropriate — if you are always fighting with your husband and choose to get up and leave the room instead of working out your issues, then avoidance is not a good tactic. But if your stressor is a coworker who has no influence over your work or isn't a part of your team, then it may be smart to avoid him in order to keep your own stress levels down. Another example of when avoidance is appropriate is if you are stressed out by traffic — avoid the congestion by taking the train or going to work earlier, thereby avoiding the weekday traffic jam.
    • Can you alter the stressor in some way? While some stressors can’t be avoided, in some cases you can still alter the stressor to some degree. For example, you and your romantic partner will have disagreements at some point; this is natural for all relationships, even the best of them. However, these arguments can be less stressful if you and your partner have made a plan or discussed how to deal with conflict. For example, you may agree to go to separate rooms to calm yourselves down during a heated argument; use "I" language do express your feelings; never blame or shame or use negative language ("You never...", "You always...", "It really sucks when..."); avoid yelling and name-calling; agree to disagree and/or compromise; and so on.
    • Can you adapt to the stressor? Sometimes you can change your behavior to reduce stress, even if you can’t change the situation. Again using the example of rush-hour traffic, if you frequently find yourself stressed by rush-hour traffic, you can’t change that: you have to get to work, and rush-hour traffic is a worldwide problem. However, you could alter your approach by taking the bus to work, changing your driving route, or leaving at a time outside the window of rush hour traffic.
    • Can you accept the stressor? Some stressors can't be changed or altered. For example, you largely can't change others' behavior or thoughts. Or, you can’t change that it rained on your wedding day. However, you can work to accept these as things beyond your control and let go of your need to control them. You can also view them as learning experiences from which you can grow.
    • You can combine these responses to resolve your stress. We often use many techniques at once throughout the day to cope with one problem or issue.

Method 2
Changing Your Behaviors

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    Breathe deeply. This is a relaxation technique that involves deep abdominal breathing. Breathing deeply increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system; this helps activate your relaxation response, which slows your heartbeat, lowers your blood pressure, and relaxes your muscles.[8] To engage in this relaxation technique: [9][10]
    • Place one hand on your lower abdomen just below your ribs and one on your chest.[11]
    • Inhale slowly through your nose. Try to breathe in for 4 seconds if you can. You should feel your stomach and chest expand as you inhale.
    • Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through your nose or mouth. Try to exhale for 4 seconds if you can. Repeat this process around 8 times per minute for a few minutes or until you feel more relaxed.
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    Focus your mind on a soothing word. You may also try focusing your mind on a single soothing word such as calm or peace. Repeat this word in your mind several times over the course of 5 minutes. [12][13]
    • If you are having trouble focusing on the word, try visualizing a representation of that word. So, if your word is "calm," try to picture a tranquil lake. This can have a similar effect, activating your relaxation response.[14]
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    Exercise. Studies show that getting exercise is a great way to combat stress and so feel more relaxed. Go for a run, go to the gym, or join in on an activity such as basketball, ball hockey, or softball to help you break a sweat and reduce your stress levels.[15][16]
    • Try listening to upbeat music as you exercise to improve your workout.
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    Relax your muscles. Stress can cause you to tense your muscles, which can feedback and make you feel even more stressed. Using progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, can allow you to release that tension and make you feel more relaxed. [17]
    • There are free PMR routines online that you can follow along with such as:
      • Berkeley's routine [18]
      • MIT's guide [19]
    • Find a quiet, comfortable place if you can, but this is not required for some PMR techniques.
    • Loosen tight clothing if you can. Sit comfortably and breathe in and out in even amounts as you do PMR.
    • Start with your facial muscles, as this is a common area of tension. Begin by opening your eyes as wide as they will go and hold that for five seconds, then slowly release the tension. Next, squeeze your eyes shut tightly for five seconds, then slowly release the tension. Give yourself 10 seconds to notice how these areas feel after performing those exercises.
    • Move to the next group. Purse your lips tightly for five seconds, then release slowly. Next, smile as wide as you possibly can for five seconds, then release slowly. Again, let yourself feel your now more relaxed muscles for around 10 seconds before moving on.
    • Continue to tense muscle groups for five seconds and then release the tension. Give yourself a 10 second relaxation break between groups.
    • Progress through the rest of your muscle groups as you see fit: neck, shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, feet, and toes.
    • If you don't have time for a full PMR exercise, try to do just your facial muscles. You can also try a quick hand massage, since we often carry stress-related tension in our hands.
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    Get social. One way to combat stress is to engage with your family and friends. Studies show that social support can buffer against stress. [20]
    • Call up a friend or family member and make some plans with them. Discuss what is eating at you. If that doesn't work, try getting your mind off of your situation entirely and instead focus on enjoying your friend's company.

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Categories: Relaxation Techniques