You walk into math class feeling pretty chill when your teacher announces a pop quiz. All at once your heart starts racing, your hands get clammy, and you feel like you can’t breathe. You’ll be lucky if you can write your name on the top of your test, let alone solve the equations.
Before you run screaming from the building, remember that your reaction is totally normal. When you experience stress—from school, friends, family, you name it—your body reacts by activating your sympathetic nervous system. This system signals your brain to release hormones that give you energy to either fight or run from a perceived threat.
This so-called fight-or-flight response is helpful if the thing causing you stress really is a threat to your safety (like a dangerous animal). It’s less helpful if the stress is not actually life-threatening (like that math quiz). “The fight-or-flight response prevents you from thinking clearly,” explains psychologist Jennifer Guttman. “Your brain can get jumbled, or you can feel like your mind has gone blank.”
Luckily, you also have a parasympathetic nervous system. It works like a reset button for your brain by helping you calm down and think clearly. There are many simple ways to kick this nifty system into gear. These methods will all help you focus and relax.
So read on, pick your favorite, and give it a try the next time you’re stressed and want to reset fast.