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6 Quick Ways to Calm Down When You’re Feeling Stressed

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We all get stressed out. Sometimes stress comes on us fast. It’s situational, and if we’re in a good place, we can handle it quickly and not suffer from it in the long term.

The kind of stress that really matters to our long-term health is chronic stress. It’s a kind of stress that we don’t quickly get relief from (and can find compounding a little bit each day). This is the kind of stress that affects our immune system and can lead to a greater susceptibility to not just sickness like colds and the flu, but a greater risk of things like high blood pressure and heart disease.

What’s more, we can often miss the subtle signs of stress and fail to realize we’re under it before it’s hit a level that significantly affects our mood, focus, and even behavior.

At the Whole Life Challenge we know that health is more than just diet and exercise. So much of our health and well-being depends on our state of mind—our ability to be calm, to feel connected to people, and to know ourselves. Food and exercise are important (we handle those too!), but the WLC puts your sense of well-being front and center in your quest for health. 

The good news is that no matter what kind of stress it is, when we do notice it, there are simple ways to bring temporary relief, regain some clarity, and deal effectively with the situation at hand. These in-the-moment strategies are the kinds of things that keep stress from accumulating and lead to longer-term decreases in chronic stress.

Any of these, as short as 5 minutes and as long as 20 minutes (or more), can remove you from the stressful situation, give you time to gain perspective, and refresh your body and mind in a way that lets you see the situation in a new light.

Breathe. As simple as it sounds, most of us in modern society don’t breathe very well. Our breathing is shallow, fast, and occurs in our chest (rather than our belly). Breath is deeply connected to our nervous system, and just like stress (or calm) causes our breathing to shift, our breathing can shift our stress back to calm.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair, place one hand on your stomach just above your belly button and the other on your chest.
  • Breathe through your nose so you feel your abdomen moving outward with each inhalation (try to move your chest as little as possible).
  • Slow down your breathing rate and depth just until you feel a “hunger” for air (a little like you feel 5–10 seconds after you start holding your breath).
  • If your abdomen muscles begin to contract, jerk, or spasm, stop and recover for 15–20 seconds and begin again.
  • Breath in this way for up to 5 minutes. If the urge to breathe deeply overcomes you, it’s fine, take a deep breath and start again (there is a good chance that when you begin this, that may happen after 10–20 seconds).

Tune out. Sometimes it’s best just to forget about what’s happening. There’s no law that says you have to continue to immerse yourself in a stressful situation until you find your way out of it. Finding a quiet place to close your eyes for a few minutes, listen to music, do a guided meditation, or even watch mindless TV can remove the stressor and give you the chance to relax and restore your mind to a calmer, more effective place.

Reframe. When we’re deeply affected by a situation, there is a chance that it’s the frame we’re seeing it through—our thoughts, feelings, or the actions we’re taking—that is really causing the problem. Simply exploring what it would be like if you thought differently about the situation, felt differently in the situation, or took a different action in the situation can give you a perspective on how you might be able to experience it differently.

[Download the Whole Life Challenge Reframing Worksheet]

Get outside. Whether you’re taking a walk or just stepping outside to sit on the curb, feel the sun and breeze, and listen to birds chirping, getting a little nature in your life is an excellent way to reconnect to something deep and stress-free in yourself. If you have the wherewithal, getting to the beach, the woods, or the mountains for a longer period of time can do wonders for longer-term decompression.

Laugh. Sometimes it feels like the last thing we have permission to do when we’re upset or stressed out is to laugh. But if you’re ever seen laughter break a tense situation, you’ll know it’s just what you want to allow yourself to do. Whatever it takes—watching a funny video, talking to your toddler until they do something ridiculous (if yours is like mine it won’t take long), or just doing a little dance and shaking yourself until you crack, laughter can send stress packing in an instant.

Relax. Take 15 minutes to relax your body from head to toe. Lying comfortably on your back (or sitting comfortably in a chair—legs and arms uncrossed), tense all the muscles in your face and head while you take a full breath in. Release and untense. Breath comfortably until you feel your head and face completely relaxed. Continue down through your body: next, chest, belly, arms (one at a time), hands (one at a time), butt, legs (one at a time), and feet (one at a time).

The Whole Life Challenge gives you the structure and support you need to be able to put habits like these into practice every day in small, simple, and effective ways. Join now and build the habits you need to manage daily stress and build health, well-being, and resilience for the future.

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Michael Stanwyck
Michael Stanwyck is the co-founder of The Whole Life Challenge, an idea that developed during his seven years as a coach and gym manager at CrossFit Los Angeles.

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in philosophy as well as a degree from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, and feels food is one of the most important parts of a life - it can nourish, heal, and bring people together.

Michael believes health and well-being are as much a state of mind as they are a state of the body, and when it comes to fitness, food, and life in general, he thinks slow is much better than fast (most of the time). Stopping regularly to examine things is the surest way to put down roots and grow.

He knows he will never be done with his own work, and believes the best thing you can do for your well-being starts with loving and working from what you’ve got right now.