How to Release Stress

Pros explain how to recover from bouts of stress. 

Your mile-long shopping list has yet to be addressed; houseguests are imminent and you’re nowhere near prepared; coordinating the family calendar has been impossible, and you’re supposed to be in three places at one time. Whatever the source, a spike in stress can make you feel agitated, angry, drained, weepy, or unable to sleep—or, let’s face it, all of the above. This happens when the brain’s fear center triggers the stress and fight-or-flight responses, a flood of hormones that revs up breathing, spikes blood sugar, and increases natural steroids so you can fight off an attacker or run for your life. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective but is an overreaction for most modern-day stress, explains psychologist Marc Schoen, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and the author of Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You. In fact, it can exacerbate the problem. “The end result could be an abundance of inflammation, leading to accelerated aging or symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] or asthma,” says Schoen. Here's your recovery plan:

1

Interrupt the Story Line

hand-squeezing-stress-ball
Photo by TommL/Getty Images

Take a break and allow yourself a moment to correct distorted thoughts about the situation. Ask yourself: Am I catastrophizing? Making this into a bigger deal than it has to be? “Fostering mindfulness—and reminding yourself that people [including you] are fallible—helps distance you from the source of stress,” says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., the director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center, in New York City, and the author of Stress Management for Dummies.

2

Settle Down

Spend a few minutes quieting your mind with deep breathing. It calms your sympathetic nervous system, switching off the fight-or-flight response, says Elkin.

3

Get Moving

You’ve heard it before: Take a brisk walk and cool off. That’s because, aside from providing a scenic distraction, short doses of moderate exercise (five to seven minutes will do) can boost your immune response, says Schoen.