Going through times of stress is inevitable, but when you don’t feel equipped to manage that stress, it can quickly become overwhelming. Researchers have even found that this can lead to “meta-stress,” where we worry about stress in advance, leading to a buildup of anxious thoughts that can take a toll on our well-being and productivity. 

Luckily for us, there are so many science-backed Microsteps and tools that we can arm ourselves with so that we can better handle our stress and reset during an overwhelming day. Here are five in-the-moment stress-relievers that can help:

Try “box breathing”

Research shows that focusing on the rising and falling of our breath activates our parasympathetic nervous system, lowering our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. One breathing exercise that you can try in a stressful moment is called “box breathing,” which is used by Navy SEALs in times of stress to help calm the nervous system. Here’s how it works: Expel all the air from your chest, and keep your lungs empty for four long counts. Inhale through your nose for four long counts, and hold the air in your lungs for four long counts. Then, exhale through your nose for four counts. Want a guided experience? Try our Box Breathing Reset.

Take a minute to move

Even if you don’t have time for a traditional workout, taking just a few minutes to move around (even doing a few jumping jacks in between calls or tasks), can help reduce your stress. “After our cortisol levels spike during a workout, they’re brought down during recovery time, and can even go lower than before you exercised,” Anthony C. Hackney, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina, tells Thrive. Studies show that even a few minutes can make a difference.

Tell a teammate

Sometimes, simply telling someone else about your stress can help you feel better and get the support you need. Approach a co-worker you trust, and ask to chat for a few minutes about what’s on your mind. Whether you’re looking for a quick venting session or concrete advice, opening up can help you get your thoughts out of your head. And if you are concerned that there’s simply too much on your plate, consider talking to your manager about getting more support. 

Get some fresh air 

Even if you just have a minute to step outside, take it! According to a study published in Scientific Reports, when we take breaks from our schedules to enjoy a view of nature, we’re less stressed and more productive when we get back to work. It’s a quick stress-reliever that can help you reset and recharge. And if you’re in a workspace that’s not near nature, try putting a fresh plant on your desk to add some greenery to your space! 

Remove email from your phone’s home screen

While it’s not always possible to avoid stressors entirely, setting boundaries with your inbox can help you mitigate some of those anxious feelings that come from getting emails around the clock. Studies have shown that the mere expectation of checking work email after hours can be stressful on workers, and anticipating those emails before they come can hinder our time outside of the office. To course-correct, make an effort to declare a real end to your workday, and turn off notifications or take email off your phone’s home screen to avoid checking your inbox after hours.

Author(s)

  • Rebecca Muller

    Senior Editor and Community Manager

    Thrive

    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.