Stress. We've all experienced it. For some folks it's intermittent, for others it's relentless, and flat-out exhausting. When stress threatens to completely overwhelm, millions of people turn to what they believe is the quickest fix they can grab – a pill or a glass of wine to help bring them 'back down to earth'. Though it may seem like a reasonable solution, do it a bit too much and you start to lose touch with your ability to calm or comfort yourself naturally. Take it a bit further and you're looking at dependence or even addiction to substances that can destroy your body's health.
To bust stress fast, as in right now, you don't have to hit the bottle. Instead, try any one of the following better, faster, healthier, portable and prescription-free ways to physically manage stress fast. As Seinfeld's Frank Costanza use to say, "Serenity now!" and here's where to start:
1. Try the Secret Weapon in Your Belly: The Abdominal Breath Technique
Here's a simple breathing exercise you can do anywhere. In fact, it's my favorite. You can do it in your car or on the train on your way to work or at your desk while waiting for your next conference call to start. Here's how:
- Get into a relaxed position, sitting upright in a chair, or if space permits, lying down.
- Put your hands on your abdomen.
- Close your mouth gently and touch your tongue to your upper palate and breathe through your nose. If your nose is blocked for any particular reason it is fine to breathe through your mouth.
- Inhale deeply and slowly, being aware of your diaphragm moving downward and your abdomen expanding. Your hands on your abdomen will feel the expansion like a balloon filling.
- At the end of the inhalation, don't hold the breath – let your abdomen fall automatically as you exhale.
- Try get all the breath out of your lungs on the expiration. The expiration should normally be about twice as long as the inhalation when you are relaxed.
- Keep repeating this, keeping your focus on your hands rising on the abdomen on the inhale and falling on the exhale.
2. Give Yourself … An Ear Massage?
Sounds a little odd, but hear me out. If you need to bust stress quickly and discreetly at your desk, try massaging your ears, from lobe to top, using gentle pressure as you work your way up the ear and back down several times, until you start to feel yourself unwind. This massage action -think of it as a needle-free acupuncture session – will help trigger your ear's reflexology points and deliver calming messages to your nervous system, which will, in turn, tamp down your body's stress response.
3. Tap Your Stress Away
Another acupressure-based series of moves you can do almost anywhere is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as tapping. Many people find it a great tool to help them bust stress quickly when time is short. So what is EFT? It's a simple self-care technique, which involves tapping specific meridian points or locations on the body to help stimulate and activate the body's energy stores and healing powers. To learn how to tap, check out some of the videos online. For example, try this Emotional Freedom Technique Informational video by Jessica Ortner.
Read more about the Emotional Freedom Technique
4. Follow the Leader: Try a 3-Minute Guided Meditation
Need to calm down before an important meeting or big presentation? You don't have to get into the lotus position to do this one. Just grab a chair, close your eyes and take a mere three minute time-out to get stress under control with this super simple guided mediation for beginners and pros alike.
5. OK. Go Ahead. Take a Pill. But Not a Pharmaceutical!
If you're looking for a natural, healthy alternative to a pharmaceutical like Valium or Xanax (and I hope you are!) the one I recommend to all my patients is Stress Support. It's a wonderfully helpful, well-tolerated formula designed to help the body's ability to handle stress. It consists of nutrients which calm down the nervous system and support adrenal health as well.
6. Tune In and Tone Down
Music really does soothe. When stress starts to get the better of you, reach for the headphones, put on some music, preferably something that has a calming effect, and sit quietly for a few minutes. You can also try listening to nature sounds (i.e., bubbling brooks, crashing waves, animal sounds, etc.), chant music, classical or instrumentals to help slow the release of stress hormones. One of my patients who flies frequently on business has what she calls her "Turbulence Time" playlist. It's 20 or so super-soothing tunes – nothing with a fast or aggressive beat – come in handy when things get bumpy at 35,000 feet. All she has to do is she hits 'play' and let the calming begin. On long-haul flights her list also doubles as a sleep aid. Another patient swears by the soundtrack from the film The Piano.
Read more about music as medicine
7. Take a Whiff of Something Wonderful
When arriving at a spa one of the first things that people often notice, besides the peace and quiet is that tranquil spa scent which seems to almost instantly calm even the most stressed out among us. When you notice your stress levels start to rise, tap into the power of your olfactory system and take it down quick with a whiff of essential oil scents that soothe. Among the most common calmers to have on tap: lavender, vetiver, sandalwood and ylang ylang, just to name a few. Try applying a few drops to your skin or a cotton ball and sniff your stress away. Keep some in your bag and at the office to help take the edge off when you feel stress starting to creep up.
8. Bust a Gut, Figuratively That Is
We all know that exercise is essential to good health and to keep stress levels in check, but sometimes you need to shake up the same old gym routine. The next time you've had a really hard day, instead of hitting the treadmill, try a laughing yoga class. A good laughing yoga session will trigger the release of endorphins, relax your body with all those feel good chemicals and counteract the stress of the day. You'll also laugh. A lot!
This article originally appeared on DrFrankLipman.com.