Stress Hacks to Help You Relax, Even If That Seems Impossible Right Now

Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

There are many sources of stress. Money. Relationships. Even politics and national news can be significant sources of anxiety. Has that happened to anyone lately?

Regardless of the source of the stress, you'll be glad we asked stress experts the best ways to relax fast, even in the most unforgiving situations.

Keep some chillwave music (or other relaxing tunes) on hand

Download your favorite low-key music to your phone so it’s always available. Just a few minutes of music when you’re stressed can release calming hormones in your body, says Dr. Kathleen Hall, stress expert and founder of The Stress Institute.

Try positivity, because science says it works

It worked for Ellen as an animated fish, so repeating a positive affirmation when you’re stressed could work for you, too, by reducing stress hormones and boosting performance. Hall recommends creating an affirmation you love and repeating it during tough times.


Get outside, if you can

Connecting with nature calls can reduce stress, and even depression, Hall says. Sure enough, "eco-therapy," or listening to nature sounds, can calm your nerves significantly.

Phone a (funny) friend

People who have a sense of humor, or are generally lighthearted, typically have a better time coping with stress than others -- or maybe they don’t get stressed in the first place, says Loretta LaRoche, a stress expert and author of Relax -- You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left. That’s why she recommends calling or texting a lighthearted buddy in the peak of a stressful time. “The people you hang out with can influence your DNA -- it’s the science of epigenetics,” LaRoche says. “Choose companions that will boost you up, rather than take you down.”


Worry with a purpose (write it down if you have time)

“If you tell your brain to stop doing something, [your brain] encourages it more,” LaRoche says. It's kind of like that old, "Don't think of a pink elephant" trick. That’s why she recommends making a list of things that bother you. “By giving your brain what it wants, you’ll worry with purpose, and eventually get bored of thinking about it.”

Make a mental note of the things you DO have going for you

Even if it doesn't seem like there are very many! For a quick fix in an overwhelming situation, remind yourself of three things that you appreciate about your life, or even three things that went well that week, LaRoche advises. This strategy helps replace what's stressing you out with a more positive thought (see above), even if it's only a short mental break.


Move your butt

Don’t worry, you don’t need to run a marathon to ease your nerves. If you're in for a particularly rough day at work, a walk around the block, or a 15-minute bodyweight circuit, can be a huge stress reliever. “Exercise is one of the best things you can do for stress reduction, as long as it doesn’t become obsessive,” LaRoche says. “Taking a walk, or another form of distraction can help your brain reorganize and feel better.”

Try a short meditation, even if you think it’s not your thing

We’re not asking you to sync up with Gandhi or anything, but a two-to-four-minute meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. Don’t know the first thing about meditation? Hall recommends the following.

  • Find a silent, comfortable place.
  • Choose a simple short phrase or word that creates calm for you ("peace," "surrender," "let go," "Cheetos" -- whatever).
  • Close your eyes and take deep, cleansing breaths, counting up to four.
  • Inhale, repeating your favorite word or phrase.

Two minutes! That's like, no time at all on a cosmological scale!

Do something crazy

Don't take this one too literally, but it can help you regain a sense of perspective to do something a bit out of character. If you're so stressed that it feels like the world is ending -- maybe your computer crashed or your boss hates your most recent presentation -- say what’s bothering you out loud and jump, LaRoche recommends. Sure, you'll look like the guy who talks to himself in the park, but it's a small price to pay for ditching some of that stress.

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Erin Kelly is a writer, runner, and triathlete living in NYC who believes pizza is the best stress reliever out there. Follow her on Twitter at @erinkellysays.