Whether it's related to an issue at work, a fight with a friend, or problems with family, everyone feels stressed sometimes. In fact, 54 percent of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their daily lives. And while therapy can help (come on, everyone's thought about laying on that infamous doctor's couch at some point), most solutions (think talk therapy or medication) are dealt with in the long-term. So what can be done in the next five minutes to reduce—and prevent—stress? Here's our list of the Greatist ways to decrease stress right now.
1. Try progressive relaxation. All the way from fingers to toes—tense and then release each muscle group in the body (lower arm, upper arm, chest, back and abdominals, etc.). Once the body is relaxed, the mind will be soon to follow Relaxation techniques for chronic pain. Diezemann, A. Tagesklinik fur inderdisziplinare, Schmerztherapie, DRK Schmerz-Zentrum Mainz, Auf der Steig, Mainz, Germany. Schmerz, 2011 Aug: 25(4): 445-53. !
2. Try some light yoga. The combination of deep breathing techniques and poses makes this activity work to reduce stress, too Yoga breathing, meditation, and longevity. Brown, R.P., Gerbarg, P.L. Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009 Aug; 1172:54-62. .
The “mental silence” that goes along with meditation may have positive effects on stress (especially work-related stress) Mindfulness-based stress reduction, minduflness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Marchand, W.R. George E. Wahlen VAMC and University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA. Journal of Psychiatric Practice 2012 Jul;18(4):233-52. A randomized, controlled trial of meditation for work stress, anxiety and depressed mood in full-time workers. Manocha, R., Black, D., Sarris, J., et al. Discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney University, St. Leonards, Australia. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011: 960583. .
4. Breathe deep. Taking a deep breath has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety Efficacy of the controlled breathing therapy on stress: biological correlates (preliminary study). Cea Ugarte, J.I., Gonzalez-Ointo Arrillaga, A., Cabo Gonzalez, O.M. Universidad Pais Vasco, Escuela de Engermeria. Revista de Enfermeria, Barcelona, Spain. 2010 May; 22(5): 48-54. . Studies suggest deep breathing can also cause a temporary drop in blood pressure Effects of mental relaxation and slow breathing in essential hypertension. Kaushik, R.M., Kaushik, R., Mahajan, S.K., et al. Department of Medicine, Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences, Swarmi Rama Nagar, Uttaranchal, India. Complemantary Therapies in Medicine. 2006 Jun; 14(2):120-6.
5. Spark some scents. Studies suggest aromatherapy can be a good way to relieve stress The effects of aromatherapy on stress and stress responses in adolescents.Seo, J.Y. Department of Nursing, Youngnam Foreign Language College, Gyeongsan, Korea. Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing. 2009 Junl 39(3): 557-65. . Certain aromas (like lavender) have been consistently shown to reduce stress levels The effect of lavender oil on stress, bispectral index values, and needle insertion pain in volunteers. Kim, S., Kim, H.J., Yeo, J.S., et al. Department of Anesthesiology and Pain in Medicine, School of Dentistry, Kyungpok National University, Daegu, Korea. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2011 Aug 19. .
6. Listen to music.
Research points to multiple ways in which music can help relieve stress, from triggering biochemical stress reducers to assisting in treating stress associated with medical procedures From music-beat to heart-beat: A journey in the complex interactions between music, brain, and heart. Cervellin, G., Lippi, G. U.O. Pronto Soccoroso e Medicina d’Urgenza, Dipartimento di Emergenza-Urgenza, Azienda Ospedaliero, Universitaria di Parma, Italy. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 2011 Aug; 22(4): 371-4. Emotional foundations of music as a non-pharmacological pain management tool in modern medicine. Bernatzky, G., Presch, M., Anderson, M., et al. Department of Organismic Biology, Neurosignaling Unit, University of Salzburg, Austria. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2011 Jun 16. .
7. Laugh it off.
Laughter can reduce the physical effects of stress (like fatigue) on the body Effects of laughter therapy on postpartum fatigue and stress responses of postpartum women. Shin, H.S., Ryu, K.H., Song, Y.A. College of Nursing Science, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea. Journal of the Korean Academy of Nursing, 2011 Jun; 41(3): 294-301. A case of laughter therapy that helped improve advanced gastric cancer. Noji, S., Takayanagi, K. Noji Clinic. The Journal of the Japan Hospital Association. 2010 Jul; (29): 59-64. Laughter and depression: hypothesis of pathogenic and therapeutic correlation. Fonzi, L., Matteucci, G., Bersani, G. Dipartimento di Scienze Psichiatriche e Medicina Psicologica, Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy. Rivista di Psichiatria. 2010 Jan-Feb;45(1):1-6. .
8. Drink tea. One study found that drinking black tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation The effects of tea on psychophysiological stress responsivity and post-stress recovery: a randomized double-blind trial.. Steptoe, A., Gibson, E.L., Vuonovirta, R., et al. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK. Psychopharmacology. 2007 Jan: 190(1):81-9. .
9. Exercise. That post-exercise endorphin rush is one way to sharply cut stress.
10. Try guided visualization.
Visualizing a calm or peaceful scene may help reduce stress and ease anxiety Guided visualization interventions on perceived stress, dyadic satisfaction and psychological symptoms in highly stressed couples. Rogers, K.R., Hertlein, K., Rogers, D. et al. Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Complementary therapies in Clinical Practice 2012 May;18(2):106-13. .
11. Join a religious community.
Surveys have shown a major underlying reason people practice religion is for stress relief. One study even found that college students who practiced a religion were less stressed than their non-religious counterparts. And other research suggests religious people are less likely to experience stress-related mental illness Mental Disorders, Religion and Spirituality 1990 to 2010: A Systematic Evidence-Based Review. Bonelli, R.M., Koenig, H.G. Sigmund Freud University, Vienna, Austria. Journal of Religion and Health 2013 Feb 19. .
12. Chew gum. Studies suggest the act of chewing gum can reduce cortisol levels, helping to alleviate stress Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Scholey, A., Haskell, C., Robertson, B., et al. NICM Collaborative Centre for the Study of Natural Medicines and Neurocognition, Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia. Physiology & Behavior 2009 Jun 22;97(3-4):304-12. .
13. Get a massage. Getting a good ol’ rub down may do more than alleviate physical pain. Studies suggest massage may also be beneficial for fighting stress Psychological responses to touch massage in healthy volunteers. Lindgren, L., Rundgren, S., Winso, O., et al. Department of Nursing, Umea University, Sweeden. Autonomic Neuroscience. 2010 Dec 8; 158(1-2):105-10. A randomized, controlled trial of meditation for work stress, anxiety and depressed mood in full-time workers. Manocha, R., Black, D., Sarris, J., et al. Discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney University, St. Leonards, Australia. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011: 960583. . It may also help improve body image A preliminary examination of the effect of massage on state body image. Dunigan, B.J., King, T.K., Morse, B.J. Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA.. Body Image. 2011 Jul 16. .
14. Try self-hypnosis.
Research suggests hypnosis can help reduce anxiety. Plus, it’s a great self-mediated technique for stress-relief Impact of self-hypnosis in women on select physiologic and psychological parameters. VandeVusse L, Hanson L, Berner MA, et al.Marquette University Nurse-Midwifery Program, P. O. Box 1881, Clark Hall, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881, USA. Hypnosis in the treatment of anxiety. Smith WH.Bull Menninger Clin. 1990 Spring;54(2):209-16. .
16. Take a nap.
Napping has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction. Faraut B, Boudjeltia KZ, Dyzma M, et al. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jan;25(1):16-24. Epub 2010 Aug 8. Nocternal sleep and daytime nap behaviors in relation to salivary cortisol levels and temperament in preschool-age children attending child care.Ward TM, Gay C, Alkon A, et al. Biol Res Nurs. 2008 Jan;9(3):244-53. .
17. Hug it out.
Hugging may actually reduce blood pressure and stress levels in adults More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA. Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, CB 7175 Medical Building A, Chapel Hill. Biol Psychol. 2005 Apr;69(1):5-21. Epub 2004 Dec 29. .
18. Hang with your pet.
Or, as we’ve put it before, just get a dog. Dog owners have been shown to be less stressed out—most likely thanks to having a buddy to cuddle Companion animals and human health. Edney, AT. Vet Rec. 1992 Apr 4;130(14):285-7. .
19. Do an art project.
Art therapy can potentially reduce stress-related behavior and symptoms Art therapy may be beneficial for reducing stress-related behaviors in people with dementia—case report. Mimica N, Kalinić D. Psychiatr Danub. 2011 Mar;23(1):125-8. .
20. Write it out.
Keeping a journal may be one way to effectively relieve stress-related symptoms due to its meditative and reflective effects Journaling: creating space for “I”. Charles JP. Clayton State University Morrow, Georgia, USA. Creat Nurs. 2010;16(4):180-4. The durability of beneficial health effects associated with expressive writing. Sloan DM, Feinstein BA, Marx BP. National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare Systems. Anxiety Stress Coping. 2009 Oct;22(5):509-23. . A gratitude journal can really help us put things in perspective, so pick a time every day to write down a few things that make you happy.
21. Take a walk.
A quiet, meditative stroll can do wonders for stress relief, especially when we step outdoors Efficacy of Tai Chi, brisk walking, meditation, and reading in reducing mental and emotional stress. Jin, P. Department of Psychology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 1992 May;36(4):361-70. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest air-bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Morita, E., Fukuda, S., Nagano, J., et al. Department of Health Promotion and Human Behavior, Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Yoshida-Konoe, Sakyu-Ku, Kyoto. Public Health 2007 Jan;121(1):54-63. . Try not to rush, and take whatever pace feels most natural.
22. Kiss someone! Research suggests kissing releases chemicals that ease hormones associated with stress, like cortisol. Forming positive relationships is also a key way to help reduce stress and anxiety.
23. Don’t write a list of the top 23 ways to reduce stress!
This article originally posted September 2011. Updated March 2013 by Shana Lebowitz.