There are countless techniques for preventing stress. Yoga and mindfulness meditation work wonders for improving coping skills. But who can take a moment to chant or meditate during a job interview or a disagreement with your spouse? For these situations, you need something more immediate and accessible. That’s when quick stress relief comes to the rescue.
The speediest way to stamp out stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—your sense of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement—to rapidly calm and energize yourself.
The key to practicing quick stress relief is learning what kind of sensory input helps your particular nervous system find calm and focus quickly. Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so an awareness of your preferences is essential for reducing stress.
Talking to someone who listens: a rapid stress reducer
Want to know a quick social stress reliever? Talk to someone! It’s true, talking about your stress with a calm and balanced listener will make you feel better instantly. Although it’s not always realistic to have a pal close by to lean on, building and maintaining a friendship network is ultimately good for your mental health. Between quick stress relief techniques and good listeners, you’ll have all your bases covered.
Bring your senses to the rescue
Here comes the fun part. Remember exploring your senses in elementary school? Grownups can take a tip from grade school lessons by revisiting the senses and learning how they can help us prevent stress overload. Use the following exercises to identify the sensory experiences that work quickly and effectively to reduce stress for you.
As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.
The examples listed below are intended to be a jumping-off point. It’s up to you to hone in on them and come up with additional things to try.
If you’re a visual person, try to manage and relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imagining the soothing images. Here are a few visually-based activities that may work as quick stress relievers:
- Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento.
- Bring the outside indoors; buy a plant or some flowers to enliven your space.
- Enjoy the beauty of nature–a garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard.
- Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits.
- Close your eyes and picture a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.
Are you sensitive to sounds and noises? Are you a music lover? If so, stress-relieving exercises that focus on your auditory sense may work particularly well. Experiment with the following sounds, noting how quickly your stress levels drop as you listen:
- Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music.
- Tune in to the soundtrack of nature—crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing.
- Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office.
- Hang wind chimes near an open window.
Smell & Scents
If you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed, surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming.
- Light a scented candle or burn some incense.
- Lie down in sheets scented with lavender.
- Smell the roses—or another type of flower.
- Enjoy the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors.
- Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.
Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations. Focus on things you can feel that are relaxing and renewing. Use the following suggestions as a jumping-off point:
- Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
- Pet a dog or cat.
- Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento).
- Soak in a hot bath.
- Give yourself a hand or neck massage.
- Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.
Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue:
- Chew a piece of sugarless gum.
- Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
- Sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink.
- Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.
- Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).
If you tend to shut down when you’re under stress, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Here are a few suggestions:
- Run in place or jump up and down.
- Dance around.
- Stretch or roll your head in circles.
- Go for a short walk.
- Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.
The power of imagination
Sensory-rich memories can also quickly reduce stress. After drawing upon your sensory toolbox becomes habit, try simply imagining vivid sensations when stress strikes. Believe it or not, the sheer memory of your baby’s face will have the same calming or energizing effects on your brain as seeing her photo. So if you can recall a strong sensation, you’ll never be without access to quick stress relief tools.
Tips for finding sensory inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere, from sights you see on your way to work to smells and objects around your home. Explore a variety of sensations so that no matter where you are you’ll always have something you can do to relax yourself. Here a few ideas to get you started:
- Memories. Think back to what you did as a child to calm down. If you had a blanket or stuffed toy, you might benefit from tactile stimulation. Try tying a textured scarf around your neck before an appointment or keeping a piece of soft suede in your pocket.
- Watch others. Observing how others deal with stress can give you valuable insight. Baseball players often pop gum in their mouth before going up to bat. Singers often chat up the crowd before performing. Ask around about what people you know do to stay focused under pressure—it could work for you too.
- Parents. Think back to what your parents did to blow off steam. Did your mother feel more relaxed after a long walk? Did your father do yard work after a hard day? Try some of the things they did to unwind; they might work for you too.
Take a break from technology
Taking a short hiatus from the television, computer, and cell phone will give you insight on what your senses respond to best. Here are some “unplugging” tips:
- Try tuning into relaxing music instead of talk radio during your commute. Or try riding in silence for 10 minutes.
- Stuck in a long line at the grocery store? Instead of talking on your cell phone, take a moment to people watch. Pay attention to what you hear and see.
- Instead of checking e-mail while waiting for a meeting to begin, take a few deep breaths, look out the window, or sip some aromatic tea.
- While waiting for an appointment, resist the urge to text and give yourself a hand massage instead.