For those of us with hectic lives, peace and serenity are elusive states. We scroll through our newsfeed and are constantly bombarded with people in a relaxed state, with not a care in the world. In reality, though, we all experience stress and anxiety, and for most of us, it’s a daily occurrence.

It’s not always possible for us to take the rest of the day off to bring ourselves back to our desired calm, but there are some quick, 10-minute exercises that we can do in order to reduce stress and help our mind and body find peace.  

What Happens to Our Bodies When We’re Stressed?

Stress can affect us in many different ways and can be brought on by a number of factors. Whether it’s work, your financial situation, or your children running around the house screaming, feelings of anxiety and stress can often be so debilitating that it’s difficult to continue your day-to-day activities.

When we experience a stressful event, our amygdala (which is the area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing) sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus acts as a control center for the brain, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system. This is what gives us the fight-or-flight response[1].

The fight-or-flight response is responsible for the outward physical reaction associated with stress (including increased heart rate, heightened senses, deeper intake of oxygen, and a rush of adrenaline). In this process, a hormone is released called cortisol, which helps to restore the energy that the body used up with the fight-or-flight response. Once the stress is gone, our cortisol levels drop, which is why we often feel tired after a stressful event has occurred[1]

Often times, the stress that we feel can be overwhelming, but there are some exercises that have proven very effective in calming us down when our body hits that anxious state, and they can be done in 10-minutes or less.

11 Ways to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in Under 10 Minutes

1. Mindful Breathing

Every living thing inherently knows how to breathe; we do it without thinking. But, mindful breathing is the practice of focusing on our breath in order to settle our nerves and connect to our body. Mindful breathing has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety in both the short-term and the long[2]. A recent study showed that both mindful breathing and cognitive reappraisal tactics (which is the reinterpretation of an emotional stimulus) were effective in reducing anxiety, but that mindful breathing was even more successful at increasing positive thoughts than cognitive reappraisal[2].

To learn how to apply mindful breathing tactics to your life, particularly when you’re in a stressful state, take note of the techniques in this video:

When you’re in an anxious state it may feel as though you cannot breathe, but if you push past that barrier and work towards mindful breathing your anxiety will be reduced and you’ll be one step closer to peace.

2. Hold An Ice Cube In Your Hand

San Diego-based psychotherapist Edie Stark, LCSW, MSc, says in an article by Bustle that holding onto an ice cube can be a quick and helpful way to fight acute anxiety.  “By holding the ice cube, your system will want to focus on the coldness in your hand rather than whatever may be causing the panic. The discomfort from the cold will also act as an intentional distraction.”

3. Meditation

reduce stress

Meditation goes hand in hand with breathing. Meditation allows you to focus your attention inwards, into your own body and mind, instead of stressing about the outside factors that are causing your anxiety. Researchers at Harvard University were shocked with the results that they found when they used an MRI to test the brains of subjects practicing daily meditation.

The researchers found that subjects practicing 27-minutes of meditation every day increased the amount of gray matter density in their hippocampus, which is the part of the brain linked to self-awareness, compassion, and introspection[4]. Participants also reported reductions in stress, which correlated with decreased gray matter density in their amygdala, known to play an important role in stress and anxiety[4].

If you’ve never tried meditation before, and are unsure about how to start, there are many online tools and apps that you can use that will guide you through the process. It’s best to begin with a guided meditation, such as the one below, until you feel comfortable enough to meditate on your own.

4. Adult Coloring Books

reduce stress

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Using an adult coloring book may seem to be a silly exercise to partake in when you have the stresses of the world on your shoulders, but studies have shown that taking the time to color will actually help to reduce your anxiety. Clinical psychologist Scott M. Bea, Psy. D. says that it has everything to do with refocusing your attention.

“Adult coloring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness. It is a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves. In the same way, cutting the lawn, knitting, or taking a Sunday drive can all be relaxing[3].” Dr. Bea states.

So next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, go out and buy a coloring book, borrow some of your children’s crayons, and get coloring.

5. Use Essential Oils

reduce stress

Essential oils, particularly lavender, has been used for centuries around the globe to help reduce anxiety and maintain a calm balance in the body and mind. But lavender isn’t just a pretty flower that we like to put on our coffee table to brighten the room, it also has many healing benefits that will help you to in the reduction of stress.

Lavender has been proven to improve symptoms such as restlessness, disturbed sleep, and somatic complaints, and has a positive impact on general health and well-being[6]. In one study, lavender was proven to be even more effective in patients suffering from anxiety disorder than placebo[6].

Luckily, lavender oil is very easy to come by, which means that you can administer this tactic the next time that you’re feeling anxious. Carry a small bottle of the oil with you and inhale the scent deeply when you’re feeling stressed, or dab a little bit of the oil onto your wrist. You may also choose to use an essential oils diffuser in your house to create a calming atmosphere throughout your home.

6. Writing Down Your Feelings

reduce stress

Self-help books are constantly talking about the importance of writing down your thoughts and feelings, and there’s a good reason for it. Writing down your emotions may help to reduce stress and trauma in your life, and help you to deal with the less-than-pleasant things that are occurring in your life.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, the chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas set out to investigate this theory further by examining 46 healthy college students. Each day the students were made to write about their personally traumatic life events for 15 minutes per day. Dr. Pennebaker found that students who wrote about their feelings visited the campus health center less frequently, and used a pain reliever less frequently than those who did not write about their feelings[5].

It may be a good idea to carry a small journal with you in your day-to-day activities in order to write down your thoughts and feelings when you become overwhelmed with stress.

7. Chewing Gum

reduce stress

You may be thinking “There’s no way that chewing gum will help with my anxiety” but studies show that this is actually the case. A study was conducted at Cardiff University that revealed that chewing gum helped to reduce stress (both at work and outside of work), reduce fatigue, reduce anxiety and depression, and led to a more positive mood[7].

This tactic likely works similarly to the way that a coloring book does, by giving you something else to focus your attention on when you’re feeling stressed. Consider keeping a couple of sticks of gum in your bag for those moments when you’re feeling anxious but don’t have a lot of time on your hands.

8. Laughter

reduce stress

It’s common for people to laugh when they’re feeling overwhelmed, even when the situation doesn’t call for it, and that’s because the body recognizes the inherent need for calm.

An interesting study conducted in 2003 showed that participants viewing humourous videos had a decreased amount of stress following the examination[8]. The same test also showed that the laughter group also had an increase in immune function[8].

So, the next time that you’re feeling anxious, take a few minutes to watch this funny cat vs. cucumber video and feel the waves of laughter wash over you.

9. Cuddle

Cuddling with a loved one may be one of the best ways to bring your stress levels down, so much so that even our closest animal relative, chimpanzees, will give hugs to their friends when they’re feeling stressed[9].

When we cuddle, hug, or touch a loved one our brains release the hormone oxytocin, which has been shown to inhibit cortisol[10]. So, the more oxytocin we release, the less stressed we are, and the happier we will be.

10. Spend Time with a Pet

reduce stress

These mood-boosting cuddles aren’t just reserved for our human friends; they also extend to our furry friends as well. Spending time with our pet when we’re feeling stressed can increase the amount of cortisol-blocking oxytocin in our body, which will instantly boost our mood and reduce our stress levels[12].

Whether your pet is covered in fur, scales, or feathers, give them some love when you’re feeling stressed and you’ll instantly feel the love spread through your body.

11. Listen to Music

reduce stress

The type of music that you listen to can have a huge impact on your mood. Regardless of the type of music that you’re interested in, the act of simply listening to music when you’re stressed can help to reduce your anxiety and stress. One study shows that your anxiety won’t be reduced based on your familiarity with the music, but rather your preference towards the type of music[11].

Create a playlist filled with music that makes your heart sing, and pop in your headphones when you’re feeling stressed for a little bit of “you time”.

All of the tactics mentioned above are meant to be quick and easy ways to deal with your stress at the moment that you’re feeling it so that you can move on with your day peacefully. While some of these methods may have a positive proven effect on stress reduction in the short-term, they should not be viewed as a solution to the problem. If you’re feeling that your anxiety is too much to bear, seek help from a professional, or try calling this helpline for further long-term support.

[1] Harvard Health Publishing. Understanding the Stress Response. (May 1, 2018). https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

[2] Hyunju Cho, Seokjin Ryu, Jeeae Noh, Jongsun Lee. The Effectiveness of Daily Mindful Breathing Practices on Test Anxiety of Students. (2016). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5072593/

[3] Brain and Spine Team. 3 Reasons Adult Coloring Can Actually Relax Your Brain. (Nov. 13, 2015). https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-reasons-adult-coloring-can-actually-relax-brain/

[4] Brent Lambert. Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds the Brains Gray Matter in 8 Weeks. (Nov. 19, 2014). http://www.feelguide.com/2014/11/19/harvard-unveils-mri-study-proving-meditation-literally-rebuilds-the-brains-gray-matter-in-8-weeks/

[5] Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D. Writing about Emotions May Ease Stress and Trauma. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma

[6] Peir Hossein Koulivand, Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri, Ali Gorji.  Lavender and the Nervous System. (Mar. 14, 2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/

[7] Andrew P, Katherine Chaplin, Emma Wadsworth. Chewing Gum, Occupational Stress, Work, Performance and Well Being. An Intervention Study. (June 2012). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666312000943

[8] Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Rosenberg L, McCann J. The Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Stress and Natural Killer Cell Activity. (Mar-Ap 2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12652882

[9] New Scientist. Empathetic Chimps Cuddle their Stressed Friends. (June 18, 2008). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0262407908615316

[10] Ditzen B, Schaer M, Gabriel B, Bodenmann G, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M. Intranasal Oxytocin Increases Positive Communication and Reduces Cortisol Levels During Couple Conflict. (May 2009). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19027101

[11] Jun Jiang, Daphne Rickson, Cunmei Jiang. The Mechanism of Music for Reducing Psyhological Stress: Music Preference as a Mediator. (Ap. 2016). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S019745561530006X

[12] Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, Henri Julius, Kurt Kotrschal. Psychological and Psychophysical Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin. (July 9, 2012). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/

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