Stress. You know it’s inevitable, just as you know the tried and true methods for releasing it: Get outside and breathe in the fresh air. Practice yoga. Sit in meditation. Take a bath infused with lavender. Tie up those running shoes and hit the trail and do a body scan while you’re at it.
And yet, stress levels across the world have peaked since COVID-19 struck, sending millions of us into a downright tailspin. Indeed, the panic has been so high that your old modes of soothing yourself—as trustworthy as they may be—might not be putting a dent in your anxiety. At other times still, the idea of moving your body, or stepping into a yoga class, or even sitting quietly in meditation, may add even more stress to your plate.
The solution? Relaxation techniques that you can do nearly anywhere, anytime—and all of them proven to relieve angst. Here are five of the freshest things to try the next time your stress starts escalating:
Creative Relaxation Techniques
1. Head to the kitchen
Your kitchen is likely a refuge—not because it houses those comfort foods and panic snacks you’ve stashed away (in fact, I’d advise staying away from those when you’re under duress) but because it can nurture your body, mind and soul.
When stress hits, make time to prepare a healthy meal. While doing so, become mindful of the sensory details around you: The scent of the garlic you’ve chosen to chop, the crisp feel of a cucumber, the warmth of your oven. Tap into your awareness and focus only on the task of cooking and the pleasure of eating—all will take your mind away from the abstract stress or specific problem you’re anxious about.
Why? Because as Will Meek, PhD, put it in Psychology Today, “when we are anxious, tense, or angry, we are almost never paying attention to our immediate surroundings. Instead, we are usually consumed with our thoughts or feelings related to things that are not present where we are.” Orienting, on the other hand—especially in a space associated with nourishment and happy moments—can start relaxing you almost immediately.
Embrace cleaning up after yourself when you’re done, too: Science shows that the act of mindfully washing dishes reduces nervousness by 27% and increases feelings of inspiration by 25%. How’s that for simply delicious?
2. Hum Like a Bee
Literally: The ancient pranayama (or breath) technique known as Brahmari—or bee’s breath—may help quell your concerns and spinning mind.
Named for the humming sound bees make, it asks practitioners to step away from the tight, short breaths that are generally associated with stress and into longer exhalations, which, according to Yoga Journal, “reduces the ‘fight or flight’ impulse and maintains a healthy level of carbon dioxide in the blood, which helps you relax.”
To engage in “bee’s breath,” sit up tall in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, and, with your lips sealed, inhale through your nostrils. On the exhale, make the sound “M” (a humming sound) and keep at it until you need to inhale. Continue until your heart calms down—or for as long as it feels good.
3. Embrace It
Distracting yourself from the issue at hand—whether it’s financial worries or a major bump in your romantic relationship—certainly works…but only temporarily. (Remember Carl Jung’s words: “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”) On the other hand, getting to the root of your distress and formulating a plan to resolve it—an honest assessment of where you stand financially, a difficult conversation you have to initiate—will help you feel more in control of your world and empower you to make wise, healthy decisions.
At the same time, actually, physically, embrace your stress: The tai chi exercise known as “embracing the tiger” lets you draw in the energy all around you, both the good and the bad, to the point where you can govern it. To do so, get into a standing position. Spread your arms wide then pull them together toward your navel, the center of your being. It may sound woo-woo and overly symbolic but trust me: It works.
4. Get Some H20
Stress can wreak havoc on your routine, compelling you to eat foods you’d usually eschew, triggering, for some, old, destructive behaviors, and tearing you away from the things you do on the daily to take care of yourself—such as staying hydrated.
Indeed, anxiety can not only keep you from remembering to consume water, but dehydration itself can cause anxiety. “Studies have shown that being just half a liter dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels,” Amanda Carlson, RD, reported to WebMD. What’s more, you may be even more dehydrated when you’re under stress, due to the increased heart rate that typically arrives with anxiety.
So, keep your S’well bottle full and by your side, or head to the kitchen for a glass of H2o—sometimes, merely breaking away from whatever you’re doing (a challenging talk with your child, a frustrating conference with a client) can mitigate your tension.
5. Engage Your Brain
To keep your mind from spinning out of control—or to at least stop its spiral into panic—it needs a point of focus. If you can’t find a resolution to what’s worrying you, or it’s beyond your control (hello, coronavirus), consider an activity that has nothing to do with work but everything to do with accessing your brain’s potential.
In other words? Utilize your smart phone or the newspaper. A round of Tetris, a few minutes of Sudoko, a word search, a crossword puzzle—all can pull your mind away from your worries long enough to catch your breath and approach the problem refreshed. As Olivia Aldridge put it in The New York Times, “I discover[ed] a strategy that helped keep anxious thoughts at bay. I would keep a page ripped from the crossword book in my pocket and unfold it when I felt panic begin to rise. Each answer was a tiny measure of accomplishment, a reminder that I was capable of winning, of choosing right. While I was solving, the anxious thoughts dissipated.”
In doing the same or something similar, your whole body will start to relax—and with it you’ll be reminded that few things in life are unsolvable.