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5 Ways to Reduce Stress in 5 Minutes or Less

A young woman stands in a park and inhales.


5 Ways to Reduce Stress in 5 Minutes or Less

Managing stress is a lifestyle, not a quick fix. But we all have those moments when we need to calm down fast

When time is of the essence, we can calm our minds by first shifting our bodies into a state of relaxation. Research shows that the mind and body are intricately linked and that our physical state can affect our mental state and vice versa. The “trick” is to use tools and exercises that promote physical relaxation by reducing our heart rate, slowing our breathing, or altering our brain waves. In just minutes, our mental and emotional state will follow suit. 

Try these 5 simple tips to lift your stress in just moments. 

How to Reduce Stress in Less than 5 Minutes

1. Practice the 4-7-8 breath.

Breathing exercises in general are a great tool for reducing stress and anxiety. For some people, taking a few deep breaths is enough to reset their minds and bodies. Others prefer a more structured breathing exercise, like the 4-7-8 breath.

Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a simple breathing technique that can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. To try it, inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Expect to feel the stress melt after about 2-3 minutes, but feel free to continue the exercise for longer.

This pattern of breathing actively slows the heart rate, reduces blood pressure, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system to physically shift your body into a state of relaxation. 

2. Tune into calmer brain waves with a sound bath.

Need a moment to reset? A 5-minute sound bath can help (no swimsuit required). A sound bath is a type of meditation where a practitioner creates and plays different sounds and vibrations using instruments such as gongs, singing bowls, chimes, and tuning forks to induce a state of deep relaxation and promote healing. It’s as if you are being “bathed” in sound waves.

When we listen to sound, our brain waves synchronize with the frequency of the sound waves, which can influence our mental and physical states. Different sound frequencies can activate different brainwaves and create different states of consciousness, ranging from alert and focused to relaxed and meditative.

You don’t have to go to a live sound bath to feel the benefits. With advancements in audio technology, sound bath recordings can be just as effective. Find sound baths for quick stress relief online, or experience a live sound bath in your local area for a longer and more profound experience.

3. Clear the air with aromatherapy.

From resurfacing memories to shifting our emotions, scents have the power to significantly alter our brain state. We can use this tool to our advantage with essential oils for stress relief.

Aromatherapy uses specific plant essential oils to impact both physical and mental health. When it comes to stress relief, certain essential oils have been proven to have a calming effect on the mind and boost the mood—and they often work within minutes.

To try it yourself, choose a stress-relieving oil such as lavender, sweet orange, or clary sage. Put a drop into your palm and rub your hands together. Cup your hands over your nose and breathe deeply a few times to inhale the scent and feel your tension lift. 

4. Dance it out.

The stress response was crucial for our early human ancestors’ survival. When danger was near, they were primed to jump into action to either fight or flee. No matter which route they chose, they had to exert a burst of physical activity to process the flood of stress hormones and reset their heart and breathing rates.

Today, few of our stressors require us to fight or run away, leaving our bodies in a heightened state even after a stressor has passed. By processing this excess energy through exercise, we can return our minds and bodies back to a normal resting state. 
A long run or kickboxing class works great. But if you only have 5 minutes, you can still relieve pent-up stress by dancing it out to your favorite feel-good song. Not much of a dancer? Any quick, high-energy exercise will do. Try doing 5 minutes of jumping jacks, burpees, a sprint around the neighborhood, or climbing stairs.

5. Sort or organize something. 

Have you ever felt so stressed that you feel out of control of your emotions? Even the littlest inconvenience could send you into fit and fury. You’re not losing your mind; you’re experiencing an amygdala hijack.

An amygdala hijack is a rapid and intense emotional response that occurs when the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure in the brain responsible for processing emotions, takes over the rational brain. When the amygdala perceives a threat, it can trigger a fight-or-flight response, releasing stress hormones that prepare the body to respond to the perceived danger. As a result, we tend to react impulsively and emotionally without thinking things through, which only worsens our stress.

The good news is that once you realize you’re in this state, it’s relatively easy to work your way out by giving your brain a simple task. For instance, take a quick break to sort or organize something.

While you could choose a junk drawer or a stack of papers, working through these could actually increase your stress. Instead, keep a box of small items (such as mixed jewelry, colored beads, or assorted beans) in your desk or bag and pull them out when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Pour the contents onto a table and begin sorting by whatever criteria you like (shape, size, color, etc.). This exercise focuses your brain on a simple and soothing task so that you can return to the problem at hand with a clear and calmer perspective. 

Let these exercises be your stress “rescue remedy.” But don’t neglect stress relief as part of your ongoing self-care journey. Build up your resilience to stress with daily habits like meditation, a healthy sleep schedule, CBD tinctures or gummies, and exercise.

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