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40 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less

Try running in place for a few minutes to get those endorphins flowing. Even brief physical activity can help beat stress.
40 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less
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40 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less

There are 364 new emails in the inbox, those new pants are covered in scalding coffee, and the next conference call starts in exactly five minutes. In other words, it’s the perfect time to relax. When we’re feeling frazzled, a weekend at a beach resort might be just the thing to calm our nerves. But there isn’t always time for tanning, let alone sleeping, eating, or going to the bathroom. Luckily we’ve rounded up 40 ways to relieve stress in just five minutes or less. From sipping tea to trying some pranayama breathing, all these tactics can create calm during tough times.

Food and Drink

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Green Tea

1. Sip Green Tea
Instead of turning purple with rage, get green with a cup of herbal tea. Green tea is a source of L-Theanine, a chemical that helps relieve anger [1]. Boil the water, pour it out, and take a soothing sip.

2. Nosh on Chocolate
Just a square (about 1.4 ounces) of the sweet stuff can calm your nerves. Dark chocolate regulates levels of the stress hormone cortisol and stabilizes metabolism [2].

3. Slurp Some Honey
Replace stress with sweetness and try a spoonful of honey. Besides being a natural skin moisturizer and antibiotic, honey also provides compounds that reduce inflammation in the brain, meaning it fights depression and anxiety.

4. Bite Into a Mango
Take a tropical vacation without leaving the desk chair. Use a five-minute break to peel, slice, and bite into a juicy mango, which packs a compound called linalool that helps lower stress levels [3]. Don’t fret about the juice dripping down your chin—the stress relief is worth the mess.

5. Chew Gum
Minty, fruity, or bubble-gum flavor, a stick of gum is a surprisingly quick and easy way to beat stress. Just a few minutes of chewing can actually reduce anxiety and lower cortisol levels [4].

6. Munch a Crunchy Snack
Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than munching away on a candy bar when we’re stressed—one study found stressed adults craved crunchy and salty snacks more than usual. But that salty crunch doesn’t have to be so sugary—a handful of trail mix or a bag of celery sticks will work just as well.

Inner Peace

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Meditation

7. Meditate
No need to go on a retreat to the mountains—five minutes of peace is all it takes to reap the benefits of meditation. There’s evidence that just two quick bouts of silent meditation per day can relieve stress and depression [5]. Find a comfortable spot in a quiet place, concentrate on your breath, and feel those anxieties start to disappear.

8. Lay Your Head on a Cushion or Pillow
There are days when all we really need is a nice, long nap. But it’s not always possible to start snoring in the middle of the office. If you’ve got a pillow, you’re already on the road to relaxation. Try this visualization technique: Lay your head down for a few minutes and imagine the pillow is a sponge sucking up all your worries.

9. Remember to Breathe
Is there any simpler way to relax? Slow, deep breaths can help lower blood pressure and heart rate [6]. For the fancy noses out there, try pranayama breathing, a yogic method that involves breathing through one nostril at a time to relieve anxiety. The technique’s supposed to work the same way as acupuncture, balancing the mind and body (and possibly eliminating the need for a tissue).

10. Try Progressive Relaxation
Anxious? Just squeeze, release, and repeat. Progressive relaxation involves tensing the muscles in one body part at a time to achieve a state of calm [7]. The method (also used by actors) is a great way to help fall asleep.

11. Count Backward
Nope, it’s not an IQ test, but it is a way to relax. When worries are running rampant, try slowly counting to 10 and then back again to calm down. It’s harder to freak about an upcoming date or job interview when you’re busy remembering what number comes before seven. (Hey, kindergarten was a long time ago.)

12. Use Creative Visualization
The doorbell rings. It’s Ryan Gosling (or Elizabeth Banks), and he/she wants to know if you’ll marry him/her. “Yes!” you shout and then—sorry, time’s up. These little daydreams, also known as “creative visualization,” involve thinking of something that makes us feel happy. It’s an instant mood boost on hectic days when we’re feeling tense.

13. Close Your Eyes
James Taylor said it: You can close your eyes, it’s all right. Take a quick break from a busy office or a chaotic household by just lowering your eyelids. It’s an easy way to regain calm and focus.

Total-Body Relaxation

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Hand Massage

14. Give Yourself a Hand Massage
When there’s no professional masseuse in sight, try DIYing a hand massage for instant relaxation that calms a pounding heart [8]. Massages can be especially helpful for people who spend a lot of time typing on a keyboard. Hands in general can carry a lot of tension. Apply some luxurious lotion and start kneading the base of the muscle under the thumb to relieve stress in the shoulders, neck, and scalp.

15. Try Acupressure
Pressure to meet a deadline can be stressful, but acupressure can help release all that tension. Acupressure’s a kind of touch therapy that works by balancing the circulation of fluids and energies in the body. Use the thumb and forefinger to massage the soft area between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Dab on some lavender oil for extra relaxation.

16. Rub Your Feet Over a Golf Ball
Leave the clubs at home and just bring the ball. You can get an impromptu relaxing foot massage by rubbing your feet back and forth over a golf ball.

17. Squeeze a Stress Ball
On days when you want to strangle a coworker, your BFF, or the driver in the next lane, squeeze a stress ball instead. It’s an easy, portable, and non-violent way to relieve tension.

18. Drip Cold Water On Your Wrists
Pass on the perfume and go with water. When stress hits, head for the bathroom and drop some cold water on your wrists and behind your earlobes. There are major arteries right underneath the skin, so cooling these areas can help calm the whole body.

19. Brush Your Hair
Really, it looks like a rat’s nest. Even if you’ve already done your 100 strokes for the day, repetitive motions such as running a brush through your hair, washing dishes, or knitting can cause the body to relax.

New Environment

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Be Alone

20. Be Alone
Not everyone needs a cabin the woods, but five minutes of alone time can help you collect your thoughts and clear your head.

21. Create a Zen Zone
Hiding in a bathroom stall might not sound calming, but do make (or find) a space that’s completely free of stress where you can go to relax. Set up a comfortable chair or light some incense and disappear there for a few minutes until the tension dissipates.

22. Find the Sun
Here comes the sun—and some stress relief. If it’s a sunny day, head outside for an easy way to lift your spirits. Bright light can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from depression, and can even cheer up otherwise healthy folks [9].

23. Look Out the Window
No spying on the neighbors allowed. When things get hectic, take a five-minute break to do nothing but stare out the window. Looking at nature scenes like trees and public parks can be a lot more relaxing than staring at the TV screen.

24. Get Organized
A stack of papers, three tape dispensers, a bunch of misshapen paperclips: All this clutter could be contributing to stress. Take a few minutes to reorganize your desk (or table, or wherever you are), leaving just what you need on top.

Exercise

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Yoga

25. Do Some Yoga
Put your feet up—against the wall, of course. The Vipariti Kirani yoga pose involves lying on the floor and resting the legs up against a wall. Not only does it give the body a good stretch, but it helps create peace of mind, too [10].

26. Stretch
Standing up for a quick stretch can relieve muscle tension and help us relax during a stressful workday [11]. Why not try a shoulder roll-out or a chest-opening stretch right from the desk chair?

27. Run in Place
We may not be able to run away from stress, but it’s worth practicing. Try running in place for a few minutes to get those endorphins flowing. Even brief physical activity can help beat stress.

28. Take a Quick Walk
“Now walk it out, now walk [stress] out.” When you’re feeling overwhelmed or having trouble concentrating, go for a quick stroll around the block. You’ll get the benefits of alone time, physical activity, and a few minutes to gather your thoughts!

Entertainment and Creativity

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Write

29. Write It Down
“Dear Diary: Today I feel STRESSED.” Just putting our emotions on paper can make them seem less intimidating. Try journaling before a big exam and it just might improve your score [12].

30. Listen to Your Favorite Song
Beyonce, Blondie, or the Biebster, sometimes belting out the lyrics to a favorite tune makes everything seem all right. If you’re in a public place (that isn’t the opera), just listening to music can be a quick fix for a bad mood [13]. Classical music can be especially relaxing right before bedtime.

31. Dance
To the music! Research suggests people feel less anxious after a few months of modern dance, but if that’s not your style, five minutes of the funky chicken probably works, too [14]. (At the very least, dancing’s a great form of cardio!)

32. Do a Crossword Puzzle
Number 10 across: Anxious, overwhelmed, or freaking out (seven letters). If you guessed “Stressed,” you’re in good shape to try some crossword puzzles. Brain games that require lots of concentration can help take our mind off whatever’s worrying us [15].

Smells

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Smell Flowers

33. Smell Some Flowers
Really, stop and smell ’em. Certain odors can change our mood, and it’s hard to feel angry or upset with a nose full of roses [16]. Keep a fresh jar of your favorite flowers near your workspace or in the living room, and take a whiff whenever anxiety strikes.

34. Try Aromatherapy
It takes just a minute to drip some lavender, tea tree, or another essential oil into your palm and inhale. The soothing scents may help send stress and anxiety packing by stimulating smell receptors in the nose that connect to the part of the brain that regulates emotions [17].

35. Sniff Citrus
Orange you glad you’re not stressed? The smell of citrus can help us relax by increasing levels of the stress-related hormone norepinephrine.

36. Nose Full of Coffee
Wake up and smell the latte. Just the odor of coffee can help reduce stress hormones—no sipping required [18]. (Just be sure not to burn the tip of your nose.)

Socializing and Fun

40 Ways to Reduce Stress: Play With a Pet

37. Cuddle With a Pet
A boyfriend or girlfriend is okay, but they’re (usually) not furry enough. After a rough day, snuggle up with a pet for an instant slobbery smile, since pets can boost self-esteem and even ease the sting of social rejection [19].

38. Laugh
Stressed? Me? Ha! Laughter’s one of the sillier ways to beat stress, but there’s science behind it [20]. A fit of hysterics can increase blood flow and boost immunity. Keep a book of jokes handy in the desk drawer or check out a hilarious YouTube video (maybe a piano-playing pug?) for a quick pick-me-up.

39. Talk to a Friend
When something’s really bothering you, it can help to share your feelings with a pal. In fact, more talkative folks tend to be happier in general [21]. So vent to a coworker or call a close family member and spill.

40. Start Planning a Vacation
Crashing waves, warm sand, a gentle breeze ruffling your hair. Well, at least the image is nice. Take a break from work and start browsing the web for some future vacation spots. Sometimes the whole fun of a trip is in the planning, anyway [22].

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Works Cited +

  1. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Kimura, K., Ozeki, M., Juneja, L.R., et al. Nagoya University Department of Psychology, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, Japan. Biological Psychology 2007;74(1):39-45.
  2. Metabolic effects of dark chocolate consumption on energy, gut microbiota, and stress-related metabolism in free-living subjects. Nestle Research Center, Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Lausanne, Switzerland. Journal of Proteome Research 2009;8(12):5568-79.
  3. Stress repression in restrained rats by (R)-(-)-linalool inhalation and gene expression profiling of their whole blood cells. Nakamura, A., Fujiwara, S., Matsumoto, I., et al. Technical Research Center, T Hasegawa Co, ltd, Kawasaki-shi, Japan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009;57(12):5480-5.
  4. 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;22(7):304-12.
  5. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Meditation for Work Stress, Anxiety and Depressed Mood in Full-Time Workers. Manocha, R., Black, D., Sarris, J., Stough, C., et al. Discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney University, St. Leonards, Australia. Evidence-basedcomplimentary and alternative medicine. Epub 2011.
  6. Efficacy of the controlled breathing on stress: biological correlates. Cea Ugarte, J.I., Gonzales-Pinto Arrillaga, A., Cabo Gonzales, O.M. Universidad Pais Vaso, Escuela de Enfermeria. Revista de Enfermeria 2010;33(5):58-54.
  7. Effects of progressive relaxation on anxiety and quality of life in female students: a non-randomized control trial. Dehghan-Nayeri, N., Adib-Hajbaghery, M. Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Nursing and Midwifery Care Research Center, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Tehran, Iran. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2011;19(4):194-200.
  8. The effects measurement of hand massage by the autonomic activity and psychological indicators. Kunikata, H., Watanabe, K., Miyoshi, M., et al. Department of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Kawaga Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Kagawa, Japan. The Journal of Medical Investigation 2012;59(1-2):206-12.
  9. Randomized trial of physical exercise alone or combined with bright light on mood and health-related quality of life. Partonen, T., Leppamaki, S., Hurme, J., et al. Department of Psychiatry, University of Helsinki, Finland. Psychological Medicine 1998;28(6):1359-64.
  10. The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress. Li, A.W., Goldsmith, C.A. St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Brighton, MA. Alternative Medicine Review 2012;17(1):21-35.
  11. Muscle stretching as an alternative relaxation training procedure. Carlson, C.R., Collins, F.R. Jr., Nitz, A.J, et al. University of Kentucky. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry 1990;21(1): 29-38.
  12. Writing about testing worries boosts exam performance in the classroom. Ramirez, G., Beilock, S.L. Science 2011;331(6014):211-3.
  13. Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females. Knight, W.E., Rickard, N.S. Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Journal of Music Therapy 2001;38(4):254-72.
  14. Effects of dance on anxiety. Leste, A., Rust, J. Perceptual and Motor Skills 1984;58(3):767-72.
  15. Trait anxiety and impoverished prefrontal control of attention. Bishop, S.J. Department of Psychology and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California Berkley, Berkley, CA. Nature Neuroscience 2009;12(1):92-8.
  16. The impact of natural odors on affective states in humans. Weber, S.T., Heuburger, E. Department of Clinical pharmacy and Diagnostics, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria. Chemial Senses 2008;33(5):441-7.
  17. Essential oils and anxiolytic aromatherapy. Setzer, W.N. Department of Chemistry, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. Natural Product Communications 2009;4(9):1305-16.
  18. Effects of coffee bean aroma on the rat brain stressed by sleep deprivation: a selected transcript- and 2D gel-based proteome analysis. Seo, H.S., Hirano, M., Shibato, J. Department of Food and Nutrition, College of Human Ecology, Seoul National University, South Korea. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2008;56(12):4665-73.
  19. Friends with benefits: on the consequences of pet ownership. McDonnell, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M. Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, OH. Journal of Personaality and Social Psychology 2011;101(6):1239-52.
  20. Humor and Laughter May Influence Health. Bennett, M.P., Lengacher, C.A. Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine 2006;3(1):61-3.
  21. Anxiety, affect, and activity in teenagers: monitoring daily life with electronic diaries. Henker, B., Whalen, C.K., Jamner, L.D., et al. Department of Psychology, University of Califronia, Los Angeles, CA. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry;2002(41)6:660-70.
  22. Looking forward, looking back: anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Van Boven, L., Ashworth, L. Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 2007;136(2):289-300.

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