Feeling overwhelmed? Stop stress in its tracks with this 14-day stress relief plan.

By Stacey Colino
Updated March 27, 2020
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Stress affects everyone differently, but right now, there’s no denying that coronavirus stress is raging across the globe—or that this stress during social distancing, lockdown, or quarantine can cause its own set of issues. Certain stress symptoms can negatively affect your health and even make it difficult to differentiate between the symptoms of COVID-19 and the symptoms of your stress.

Unfortunately, even people who don’t stress may be tense right now; those of us who tend to stress a lot are on high-alert. Learning how to deal with anxiety is a different skill set, but for anyone struggling to manage acute, situational pressure, there are easy steps you can take to reduce stress.

Whether you’re stressed about the coronavirus pandemic or simply looking for general stress reduction techniques, this 14-day plan has you covered. Hopefully, you’ll feel a little better every day, and by the end of the two weeks, you’ll have reliable methods for stress relief that you can fall back on throughout this crisis. (Apps for anxiety can also help you keep your cool right now through mindfulness and meditation techniques.)

Experts recommend that people self-isolate or self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days after they’ve been potentially exposed to the virus, and this plan for stress relief takes 14 days: We call that a happy coincidence.

Stress relief in 14 days

Day 1: See the big picture. For smaller obstacles, ask yourself how stressful the situation really is: Will this matter in three months? Three years? For larger issues with long-term repercussions (such as coronavirus), write down exactly what you think the problem is (as it pertains to your current situation). Brainstorm what you can do to move toward a better outcome, itemize the steps that must be taken, then create a concrete plan of action. Focus on actionable steps you can take.

Day 2: Survey your support system. Make a list of people you could turn to for advice and hands-on help in a pinch. You’ll probably realize you have more people to rely on for emotional, practical, or financial support than you thought you did. Knowing that they’re there can mitigate the effects of stress and make you feel more resilient.

Day 3: Plant something. Whether it’s a window box or a row of bulbs, caring for greenery can have a positive effect on your well-being. A recent study put heart-disease patients in a horticultural-therapy class. Immediately after the class, their heart rates were lowered and their moods improved. Gardening can help shift the focus away from the stressors in your life and calm you down.

Day 4: Take tea. A British study found that regularly drinking black tea can lower levels of stress hormones and induce feelings of relaxation. Just be mindful of how much caffeine you drink before bedtime.

Day 5: Give yourself a massage. Professional massages may be unavailable for the time being, but try this DIY solution a few times a day: Place your left hand in front of you, palm-side up with your fingers together. Using your right thumb, massage the fleshy spot between your left thumb and index finger in a circular motion while you slowly count to 15.

Day 6: Play online. Doing online puzzles, like solitaire or sudoku, can decrease stress and improve mood, according to research from East Carolina University, in Greenville, North Carolina. Because you’re distracted from your worries by the game, your nervous system can relax. Find a game you like, one you become so absorbed in that you lose all track of time, and play it daily.

Day 7: Bless yourself. Focusing on what you’re grateful for flips a switch in your brain: When you let good things take center stage, the stressful ones can recede. Make a list of three to five specific things you’re thankful for―your husband did the laundry today, the new album you discovered on Spotify, and so on. With daily practice, gratitude will soon become a more natural state of mind.

Day 8: Think pink. It may not be your color, but, surprisingly, a bubblegum shade of pink originally called Baker-Miller Pink has been shown to have a temporary soothing effect, actually lowering blood pressure. To add a little pink to your day (without repainting your office), make your screen saver a bright pink image, store papers in pink file folders, put a pink pillow on your chair, or jot memos on pink Post-it Notes.

Day 9: Turn off the TV. Constant bombardment by news can make you feel more tense when you’re already keyed up, and a blaring TV hits you with both visual and aural stimulation. Consider a quieter, more single-sensory form of news―whether it’s the morning paper or the car radio—and limit your news to one source to keep from being overwhelmed. Set a daily time limit for your news consumption on all platforms, too.

Day 10: Take the scenic route. While continuing to practice responsible social distancing, seek out a walkable, tree-lined road nearby. A study showed that frustrations are somewhat eased if you travel down streets with views of vegetation. Make this spot your new walking route while you take short breaks from home.

Day 11: Untie your knots. Several times a day, scan your body from top to bottom, focusing on the areas that are most vulnerable to stress-related muscle tension. Consciously release the muscles in your forehead, eyes, lips, tongue, jaw, lower back, and toes.

Day 12: Give bad thoughts the stop sign. Negative thinking can fuel stress. So when damaging, unhelpful thoughts come to mind, ask yourself: How could I look at this in a neutral light? Or try visualizing a giant red stop sign in front of these thoughts. Then take a few slow, deep breaths and decide whether you need to dwell on the negative or can think about something more present.

Day 13: Lend someone a hand. Help a colleague who’s in a jam with WFH responsibilities, look into ways you can support local businesses during their shutdown, and consider ways you can help others during the coronavirus crisis. Reaching out to someone else gets you away from your own worries and puts things in perspective.

Day 14: Plan to laugh. Research has found that feel-good endorphins start cranking and the mood-boosting benefits kick in as soon as people start anticipating having a laugh, and a good belly laugh can relax your whole body. So queue up The Office or Schitt’s Creek and let the good vibes start flowing.