Feeling stressed about something? Freaking out, even? Join the frazzled club. A recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association found that nearly 40 percent of Americans were more anxious than they’d been the previous year. No surprise, then, that we’re seeing so many stress-relieving buzzwords and products everywhere — meditation, mindfulness, CBT, CBD, and so on.
But what actually works when you need to relax — and fast? Finding calm doesn’t have to be complicated, trendy, or costly. Here are five techniques for relieving stress and anxiousness in a minute or less.
1. Focus on Breathing
Concentrating on your breath can be a quick route to relaxation. “Many times, our subjective feeling of anxiety is tied to physiological symptoms we can actually feel, like a racing heart,” says Dr. Michael Rosenthal, a psychiatrist in New York City. Deep breaths can help by slowing your heart rate: “Begin by focusing on your breath, and try to feel or listen to your heartbeat,” Rosenthal says. “You’ll notice that at the peak of your inhalation, your pulse will slow.”
Rosenthal recommends starting by breathing in for five seconds, holding for five seconds, and breathing out for five seconds. (If you have a few extra minutes, try to increase each step by one second, until you reach the point where you inhale, hold, and exhale for 10 seconds each.)
Or try this one-minute breathing exercise recommended by Harvard Medical School, which combines deep breathing with reciting a calming mantra: While sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times.
2. Do a Grounding Exercise
This mindfulness technique involves concentrating on the small details of the present moment, like the sensation of your feet on the ground or the position of your spine. Reorienting your focus in this way can help relieve feelings of panic or uneasiness, Rosenthal says: “For example, I may say, ‘My name is Michael. I am here on the train. It is a Monday in New York City. I am okay.’ This can help reorient my focus on the present.”
3. Massage Your Pressure Points
Acupressure is an alternative medicine technique, based in traditional Chinese medicine, of massaging certain pressure points on the body to relieve certain ailments. Research suggests it may help promote relaxation — and it’s easy enough to try. Two easy-to-reach pressure points the Chopra Center recommends for stress relief: the webbed triangle between your thumb and your index finger (on the back of your hand), and the spot on your forehead where your “third eye” would be (between the eyebrows). While sitting comfortably, breathe deeply and massage one of these points in a circular motion.
4. Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing, then releasing, groups of muscles throughout the body. While breathing deeply, tense one muscle group at a time — clench your hands, for example, or flex your legs. Hold for up to 10 seconds, then release. Note the difference between the tension and relaxation. Wait 10 seconds, then move on to the next muscle group.
5. Try Guided Imagery
Take a one-minute mental vacation by imagining a calm place. “Conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus,” says Julie Corliss, executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter.
If you’re too stressed to visualize without getting distracted, find a calming image or a guided imagery app on your phone instead. (Think of it as meditation with a cheat sheet.) “You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes — just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance,” Corliss says.
What To Do If One-Minute Hacks Aren’t Helping
All of us experience anxiety from time to time, but when does it become something to… er, worry about?
“Anxiety is a normal human emotion we all feel, but we tend to say it becomes ‘disordered’ when it interferes with one’s role in society, or in one’s relationships,” Rosenthal says. “Whenever a significant portion of someone’s day is spent worrying, or thinking about things in a negative light, or even thinking about anxiety itself, that may be a sign that it’s time to process those feelings with a clinician.”