30 Science-Backed Ways to Relax When You’re Totally Stressed Out

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Stress is everywhere. Even in normal times, when we’re not all huddled in our homes during lockdown, it’s hiding in the dozens of unread emails in our inboxes, in the accusatory tone of our boss when he asks why those reports haven’t been filed yet, and in the dirty pile of unwashed dishes in the sink. Throw in the worries associated with a global pandemic, and you can bet that our cortisol levels are at an all-time high.

But it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of 24/7 anxiety. To help you out, we’ve compiled the most effective ways to de-stress when life becomes too much to handle. So relax, center yourself, and read on.

1.Smile—even if it’s forced.

It sounds crazy, but when it comes to de-stressing, it’s often helpful to fake it ’til you make it. In fact, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science, forcing a fake smile actually helps reduce stress.

For the study, subjects were asked to plunge their hands into a bucket of ice water—some while smiling, and others reacting naturally. The researchers monitored the subjects’ heart rates throughout the exercise and it turned out, those who smiled during the icy experiment had lower heart rates. What’s more, the smilers reported less anxiety than those who showed neutral or distressed expressions.

2. Sit up straight.

One 2015 study published in the journal Health Psychology found that sitting upright in the face of stress can boost self-esteem and fend off further angst. The idea is based on the concept of “embodied cognition,” which maintains that our bodies impact our emotions (and vice versa). So the next time you’re stressed, remember to plant both feet on the ground, look straight ahead, straighten your back, and feel your shoulder blades pull back and down.

3. Sniff some flowers.

Taking a moment to stop and smell the roses might just be the thing that helps you de-stress. One 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that when people touched and smelled plants, they were subsequently less stressed and less anxious.

4. Or sniff a sweet-smelling essential oil.

If you really want to relax, then consider investing in a few essential oils. In a 2016 study from the University of Montana, researchers found that when college students were told to sniff essential oils—specifically chamomile, clary sage, or lavender—they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress and improvements in sleep quality and energy levels.

5. Watch a funny movie.

It might sound cliché, but laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to combatting stress. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that mirth actually can be effective at treating a range of maladies, stress among them. So next time you’re feeling wound up, do yourself a favor and chuckle yourself back to calmness.

6. Doodle.

Being the president of the United States is a pretty stressful gig—and, according to an article in The Atlantic, many heads of state used drawing as a solution. “Dwight Eisenhower drew sturdy, 1950s images: tables, pencils, nuclear weapons. Herbert Hoover’s scrawl provided the pattern for a line of rompers. Ronald Reagan dispensed cheery cartoons to aides,” the article explains. So next time you’re feeling stressed out, grab a pen and paper and see if the same technique works for you.

7. Take a quick bath.

One of the easiest ways to de-stress is in the tub. In a 2018 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers found that subjects who bathed for just 10 minutes a day for two weeks in hot water saw improved mental and emotional health.

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