April 8, 2021

The No BS Guide to Eliminating Stress

3 Minute read

These DIY strategies will help you regain your calm

You know the feeling. Your ears grow hot. Your heart beats against your brain. All saliva evaporates from your mouth. You can’t focus. You can’t swallow.

That’s your body on stress.

Big concerns like debt or a family emergency can up the pressure. But so can smaller stuff like a work project snafu, a fender bender, or even a snappy text from your roomie. And sometimes all the things happen at once, making you feel like you’re under attack and sending you into a tizzy.

Unfortunately, we can’t actually stress-proof ourselves.

“Stress is a healthy response,” explains Lauren Rigney, a Manhattan-based mental health counselor and coach. “It alerts us to things we may need to pay more attention to. It can save us during times of danger.”

But with DIY stress hacks, we can learn to control our physical and mental reaction and lessen the impact that strain and worry have on our lives.

Do this to feel better now

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing muscle groups one at a time in a specific order as you breathe in and then releasing as you exhale. Clenching fists is one example.

A recent study demonstrated PMR’s potential to lower heart rate and blood pressure. You can learn full-body PMR by following a scripted guide, but even just a few minutes of focusing on one area of the body can make a difference.

One-minute PMR

  • Inhale and wrinkle the forehead. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
  • Inhale, close your eyes tightly, and scrunch your cheeks. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
  • Inhale, clench your jaw, and stretch mouth to a grin. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
  • Inhale and squeeze your lips together. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
  • Inhale and puff the air into your cheeks. Hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and release.
  • Repeat a few times, if necessary.

Take a break from the hustle and bustle

Those 5-minute stress destroyers are great for situations when you can’t take a true time out. (You still have to breathe when you’re in traffic!) But intentionally fitting in bigger reprieves when possible can help provide a constructive reset.

If you have 30 to 60 minutes, try these options:


If you’re prone to panic when stress sets in, exercise can help you cope.

On the immediate side, the effects of moderate activity can be felt in as little as five minutes. You’ve probably heard of the runner’s high or how exercise floods you with feel-good endorphins. But there’s more to that: The more often you sweat it out, the less reactive you’ll be, research shows.

When you get your heart rate up and begin to pant, you’re creating some of the same bodily reactions you might experience if faced with a stressor. This makes you more resilient to those involuntary stress responses.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you reassess your to-do list and the feelings associated with it. If a continued accumulation of tasks and goals makes you feel like you’re failing at adulting, your stress responses might be the culprit.

“Our thoughts can drive our panic and grow it,” Rigney explains. She suggests doing some mindfulness breathing to calm yourself and then taking a fresh inventory.

“Go back to that list and trim it down or organize it,” she says. “Pick the top items that need to be complete and then break down the more complicated items into small, workable parts.”

Stave off stress by training your body to handle it

if there’s no sign of the stress stopping soon (such as work stress or a long-term situation), it might be time to rewire our brains for better coping by making stress-relief tactics part of our routines.

“If we experience chronic stress,” Rigney says, “our body continues to function at this heightened level and eventually believes this unhealthy state to be the way we are supposed to function.”

Not opening the valve on the pressure regularly, it turns out, has whole body health consequences, from depression to heartburn.To keep the worry beast at bay, make chill town a regular destination. “Long-term habits are essential for managing stress because they can keep chronic stress from developing and give you a baseline to return to when situational stress overwhelms you,” Rigney says.

When to talk to a pro

DIY methods are great to have in your arsenal, but if you’re dealing with a major life change or loss or if the smaller stressors pile up to Everest heights, reach out to a mental health professional.

Talking through worries and triggers can provide immense relief, and a pro can help you customize stress-busting strategies that work for you.

Certainly, don’t stress over stress-relief options. If the techniques mentioned here don’t liberate you from panic and pressure, revise them to fit your specific needs or lifestyle.

“There is no exact formula for these habits,” Rigney reminds us. “Have a few in your toolbox. Different types of stress can need different types of coping skills. So play with it a bit.”

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