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10 Instant Stress Busters You Can Turn to When Stress Strikes (According to Science)

Life often hands us more than we can handle. And it seems we have more and more reasons to get stressed these days. But, it’s not only the obvious big stresses – it’s the little ones that often go unrecognized that can take their toll.

A cascade of little annoyances can easily gather momentum. One way to keep that from happening is to follow each little stressor throughout the day by pausing for a brief stress management technique.

Daily stresses and hassles such as being stuck in traffic, losing your keys, or arguing with family members may seem relatively inconsequential at the time. But research shows that these minor stressful events can have a more negative impact on wellbeing than bigger life events because of their frequency and cumulative effect.

When they pile up, life can seem like it’s whirling out of control.

What Is the Stress Response?

When you’re stressed, your body responds in an adaptive fashion and your brain orders up a chemical surge setting in motion the “fight-freeze-flight” survival reflex. This is your body mobilizing to deal with perceived threat.

Because our bodies are designed for self-preservation, they gear up to face danger within one heartbeat.

Physiologically, this is what happens when you’re experiencing the stress response:

  • Your heart pumps faster to get more blood to your muscles
  • Breathing becomes faster to move more oxygen to your blood
  • Your muscles tense up to get ready for action
  • Blood pressure rises
  • Your pupils dilate so more light can get in
  • Metabolism speeds up to jolt you with a boost of energy
  • Your immune system becomes suppressed
  • You sweat more to cool off your body
  • Blood vessels traveling to the gastrointestinal tract, hands, and feet constrict
  • Stomach acid increases and digestive enzymes decrease
  • The arteries around your heart become strained
  • Blood flow to the reasoning area of the brain diminishes as blood flows to the more primitive part of the brain



What Are Stress Management Techniques?

The stress response unfolds quickly so you need to be an “early responder” to temper your initial response before it takes on a life of its own.

Once stress strikes, the more tools, strategies, stress busters, and stress management techniques you have for coping, the more effectively you’ll be able to manage your stress.

The more proactive you are in noticing your thoughts, judgments, and bodily signs at the onset of stress, the more successful you’ll be in responding to stress.

Not a day goes by without stressful moments.

If you learn to read your body’s signs and become more attuned to your early physical cues, you can use them as your signal to interrupt the stress response.

Check for bodily sensations such as heart pounding, shortness of breath, feeling hot, muscles tensing up, queasy stomach, clenched teeth, or sweaty palms.

Things start to speed up, so notice if you’re breathing fast, or if you’re starting to talk faster, or shove food down. These are your telltale signs sending the message to intercept the stress response.

So, Here Are 10 Instant Stress Busters and Why They Actually Work:

If you can pay attention to your physical sensations as soon as they kick in, you can learn to take action sooner and sooner.

So, the following are 10 research-based strategies along with the science for why they work from my book, A Daily Dose of Mindful Moments: Applying the Science of Mindfulness and Happiness.

They can take less than a minute and offer ways to quickly access your body’s relaxation response as soon as stress launches.

1. Take Three to Four Deep Breaths

This is the most immediate way to reduce stress because it shuts down your body’s stress response in just six to 10 seconds.

2. Place Your Hand on Your Heart

Place your hand on your heart and breathe deeply while remembering a time when you felt completely accepted by someone. Just the thought is enough to send the “love hormone” – oxytocin – surging through your body to return you to a calm state.

3. Apply Pressure Between Your Thumb and Forefinger

Apply pressure between your thumb and forefinger and hold for 30 seconds. This spot is close to bundles of nerves and pressing on them relaxes the nervous system which ramps up when you’re stressed.

4. Exercise Control

Take some action, no matter how small, where you can exercise some control. Taking action on your own behalf shifts you out of a sense of helplessness to regain a sense of control which reduces stress.

5. Rub Your Hands Together

Rub your hands together briskly to open up the blood vessels. Because stress pulls the blood out of your toes and fingers and sends it to your internal organs, this stress buster will jar your brain out of its stress response.


6. Calm Yourself With Self-Talk

Repeat calming self-talk such as: “This too will pass,” “I can stay calm,” or “I can handle this.” This soothing talk will keep your mind from revving up with habitual negative chatter.

7. Visualize Laughter

Visualize a time when you were laughing with a good friend or family member. You’ll break into a genuine smile which lowers your heart rate and leads to quicker recovery from your stressful experience.

8. Distance Yourself

Use “time-distancing” by asking yourself how you’ll feel about this a year from now. Keep moving the timeframe to a month, a week, a day, an hour. This is an instant stress buster because it helps you put things in perspective.

9. Chew Gum

Pop a piece of gum into your mouth. Chewing loosens jaw muscles which hold stress so it’s actually a highly effective stress management technique.

10. Exaggerate

Take the stressful event to a ludicrous point – “I’m stuck in traffic, I’m going to be way late . . . I’ll probably get fired.” As you realize you’re fueling your stress by blowing the situation way out of proportion, your anxiety will dissipate.

The Takeaway on Stress Busters and Stress Management Techniques

Not a day goes by without stressful moments. To build up your defense against stress, you need to have a repertoire of immediate stress busters and stress management techniques at your disposal so you can keep the potentially destructive effects of stress from taking hold.

When your stress is more intense, you can try combining two or more of these stress busters. For example, while taking a few deep breaths, hold your hand on your heart and repeat some calming self-statements.

If you use these stress management techniques early on, it can keep stress from escalating throughout the day so you are less frazzled by the end of the day.

These stress busters can help you keep your cool in the heat of the moment and make it easier to cope with a stressful situation.

Need more stress relief? Try this Yoga For Stress Management With Essential Oils (Free Class)

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Grab Your Essential Oils and Take This FREE Yoga Class for Stress Management
Many people turn to yoga for stress management. Practice yoga for stress relief and learn how essential oils can also help in this free yoga class.
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Dr. Barbara Larrivee

Dr. Barbara Larrivee is an educator, researcher, author, and workshop leader. Her latest book, A Daily Dose of Mindful Moments: Applying the Science of Mindfulness and Happiness, is about weaving mindfulness into daily life with “mindful moments”—brief, research-based practices drawn from decades of research in mindfulness, positive psychology, and neuroscience.

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