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3 Instant Stress Busters

Feel immediately calmer and more relaxed with these easier-than-easy strategies.

3 instant stress busters

'Tis the season to be jolly, right? Long lines in your favorite store, difficulty finding parking at the mall, cold weather. Jolly indeed. If you find yourself in the middle of your holiday errands and feeling less than in the spirit, try these simple, subtle strategies to relieve tension in seconds flat.

1. Breathe.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m breathing all the time—what is she talking about? Well, yes, of course you’re breathing, but you’re probably not breathing as deeply or effectively as you can, and that can make a ton of difference when you're under pressure.

Researchers at Harvard have documented what has long been known anecdotally: that deep breathing has a positive impact on stress*. To get the benefits of a good, deep breath, breathe in slowly through your nose, then breathe out (even more slowly) through your mouth. At first, try to do this for just a minute several times a day. Then, if you can (without stressing yourself out!), work your way up to a few minutes of deep breathing at a time. The most important thing is to keep doing it! Remembering to trade your automatic everyday breathing for mindful deep breathing can be challenging, especially when you’ve got a million other things on your mind. But it’s worth it. The more you take a moment to breathe, the less stress you’ll feel.

MORE: 3-Step Nightly Deep Breathing Exercise

2. Remember your shoulders.
Standing in line, waiting to purchase your gifts, you can practice stress management on the down low. Nobody else in line need know. Just drop your shoulders. When you’re stressed, you are likely to tense up your shoulders without even realizing it, and that can contribute to stress headaches. Whether or not you think you’re shrugging your shoulders, make a conscious effort to put as much space between your ears and your shoulders. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you can lower your shoulders, and you’ll instantly feel calmer.

In addition, as the day goes on, be sure to switch your bags from shoulder to shoulder. Most of us carry our bags on the same shoulder every day, and now add all of the holiday packages and you can start to see how this may cause sore, stiff and tense shoulders, adding to your overall feeling of stress.

3. Do something for someone you don’t know.
So many of us are so busy checking off our gift lists. Whether it’s something for a family member, a friend, a teacher or a colleague at work, you’re probably always on the lookout for an expectant someone in your life. While you’re at it, do something spontaneous and unplanned for someone you don’t know this holiday season. Maybe it’s dropping some loose change in the Salvation Army bucket, donating to a charity you normally don’t support, or spending a mealtime helping out at a soup kitchen. Whatever you do, you’re likely to experience what’s often called a “helper’s high.” Watch how great you’ll feel when you take a moment for someone else, and how your stress seems to magically melt away.

RESEARCH: Volunteering Increases Happiness—Yours! 

Want more ways to de-stress? Take our stress quiz and receive personalized action steps.

*Dusek JA, Out HH, Wohlhueter AL et al. Genomic Counter-Stress Changes Induced by the Relaxation Response. PlosOne. Vol3 (7): e2576. July 2, 2008

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