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Stressed? Reset It!

Frazzled, stressed out, overwhelmed? Try one of these super easy (and weirdly fun!) resets to feel better fast.

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. 

Reset 1: Melt Like Butter

Why You Need It: Your body responds to stress by tensing your muscles. Those tense muscles then send signals to your brain that you’re stressed, which causes your muscles to get even more tense. Break that vicious stress cycle with this soothing relaxation trick. 

How To Do It: Stand up straight with your feet flat on the ground, or sit tall if you’re in a chair. While taking slow, deep breaths, concentrate on relaxing your forehead, then move down your body. Relax the muscles in your mouth, jaw, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, belly, thighs, calves, and feet. One way to do this is to imagine each area melting like butter in a hot pan. You should be able to feel all of the stress draining all the way out of your body as you breathe.  

Why It Works: “Doing this muscle relaxation exercise while breathing deeply activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you feel calmer,” says psychologist Susan Heitler.

Reset 2: Dance Like a Goofball

Why You Need It: When you’re stressed, your body is flooded with hormones that can make you feel immobilized. Dancing (or any type of exercise) gets your blood pumping and your body moving again. 

How To Do It: This one is easy. Put on your favorite upbeat jam and dance like no one’s watching! If you don’t have access to music, or you’re in a place where dancing isn’t appropriate (like class), do anything physically active. Racewalk to the water fountain for a drink or go do a quick set of jumping jacks in the bathroom. 

Why It Works: Exercise releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals produced by the nervous system to reduce pain or stress. Including music doubles the benefits by triggering the release of dopamine, another feel-good hormone, adding to your sense of overall well-being. 

Reset 3: Yawn Like a Lion

Why You Need It: Anxious thoughts zipping through your brain can make you feel jittery and unable to concentrate. Yawning helps your brain slooooow down.

How To Do It: Think sleepy thoughts (maybe imagine being in bed), then tilt your head back, let your mouth hang open, and stretch your jaw as wide as it goes. Inhale through your mouth until you can’t take in any more air, then exhale forcefully, relaxing your face as you breathe out. Bonus points for an audible “Aaaaaah.”

Why It Works: Scientists think the act of yawning brings more blood to the brain, which cools it down and slows the release of stress hormones. Yawning also signals your brain that you’re getting sleepy, which can have a calming effect when you’re starting to feel twitchy. 

Reset 4: Chill Like a Penguin

Why You Need It: Stress and anxiety can make you feel hot and flustered. Use this technique to cool down, fast.

How To Do It: Fill a bowl with ice water. Hold your breath and submerge your face in the water for 15-30 seconds. Don’t have a bowl or don’t feel like getting your face wet? You can also try splashing cold water on the back of your neck or on your wrists, or holding an ice cube in your hand, Guttman says. 

Why It Works: Your blood vessels are close to the surface of your skin on your face, wrists, and neck. Cooling them with icy water sends signals to the brain to lower your core temperature. This immediately slows your heart rate and increases blood flow to your brain, which will help calm your emotions. Holding ice in your hand can distract your brain from troublesome thoughts as your attention is diverted to the sensation of cold in your palm.

Reset 5: Breathe Like a Wave

Why You Need It: Stress can cause your breath to become fast and shallow. That prevents your brain from getting the oxygen it needs to think clearly. To reset panicky breathing, take deep, slow breaths from your diaphragm, a muscle located between your lungs.

How To Do It: Sit in a chair (or lie on your back, if possible). Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to five. Feel the breath move through your lungs and into your stomach like a wave rolling through your body. The hand under your rib cage will rise as your stomach expands. Then breathe out slowly through your nose, counting to five again and feeling your hand move down as your stomach deflates. 

Why It Works: Breathing from your diaphragm allows you to completely fill your lungs with air, so your brain gets all the oxygen it needs to keep you calm. “Deep breathing helps to control the nervous system and encourages the body to relax,” says psychologist and life coach Pamela S. Willsey.

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