How to reduce stress

Count down to get grounded.

When your internal pressure is high, one stress-relieving technique that could help you feel a little more at ease is tuning into your exterior world. The “5-4-3-2-1 approach” is a mindfulness exercise designed to bring you out of your thoughts and into the present moment, according to Rhayvan Jackson-Terrell, LCSW, wellness director at NYC Health and Hospitals and a telehealth therapist. 

She gives the following instructions: Take a deep breath and then close your eyes. Next, glance around and pay attention to the little things in your environment. Next, begin counting backwards from five using your senses: What five things can you see, four things can you touch, three things can you hear, two things can you smell, and one thing can you taste? That’s it; you might be able to calm your mind and body by letting go of your anxious mental story and settling into your surroundings and feelings. “Being able to stop for a moment and acknowledge how we feel can actually help us calm down,” says Jackson-Terrell. It allows our body to self-regulate with room and grace.

Go into “diving reflex” mode.

You know that scene in a movie where the main character flees a tense situation and enters a public restroom? When they inhale deeply and use the sink to pour cold water on their face to demonstrate to the audience that they need to calm down? The “dive reflex,” your body’s natural mechanism of concentrating blood and oxygen to your important organs while you are submerged in water, is activated when you splash cold water on your face, so dramatic as it may seem, practicing a variation of this grounding technique could genuinely aid you in real life.

According to Nicole Murray, PsyD, clinical director and CEO of telehealth therapy company Cultured Space, “This tool can be helpful when people are starting to kind of panic—they’re going into a presentation or a meeting they’re really nervous about and they’re feeling acute anxiety due to a stressor.” By applying cold water to your face, you can relax your autonomic nervous system and lower your pulse rate and breathing rate.

Make use of box breathing.

Another easy method to reduce stress is breathing exercises, and Jackson-Terrell suggests using box breathing as your go-to stress reliever. She claims that the accessibility of this coping strategy is why she enjoys it: “We can do it no matter where we are or what situation we’re in.”

Box breathing gets its name from its four-step, four-count cycle, which is designed to evoke the image of a square in the mind. It calls for inhaling for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, exhaling for another four counts, and then holding your breath out for four more counts. According to Jackson-Terrell, you can keep breathing in this manner until you feel your body begin to release stress. It is a flexible addition to your stress-SOS toolkit since you can use it before, after, or even during a nerve-wracking situation.

Try letting each muscle in turn relax.

It has been demonstrated that the tension-relieving approach of progressive muscle relaxation can reduce stress and anxiety. When you need to unwind but aren’t feeling very nervous (you’re not exactly in a one-muscle-at-a-time zone if you’re really fired up, you know?) like at the end of a long day or as a peaceful method to ease into the weekend, Dr. Murray suggests this practice. All you need is a calm moment or two and a comfy location to sit.

Start by tucking your toes under and tensing your foot’s muscles for a few seconds before gradually relaxing them. Apply the same technique to your lower thighs, upper legs, torso, chest, stomach, shoulders, and neck before finishing with your head. The goal is to deliberately bring stress into each muscle group one at a time. According to Dr. Murray, doing so strengthens the bond between your brain and your body, grounds you in the here and now (so that you’re not lost in your stressed-out head), and gives you a sense of control over how much tension you’re holding on to.

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