How to relieve stress fast

Feeling agitated and anxious? Stress and anxiety can leave you jumpy, overwhelmed, with a churning stomach and unable to sleep. But the good news is there are techniques we can use to regain a soothing sense of calm and control in just a few minutes.  

1. Take an ice-cold shower

Popularized by the Iceman himself Wim Hof, who famously climbed 24,000ft up Everest in just his shorts and open-toed sandals, the practice of immersing ourselves in freezing water isn’t just about cooling down. It reduces anxiety and stress, perks up mood, relieves fatigue, strengthens immunity, and eases aching muscles. And studies have shown that the results appear consistent whether you brave the cold for 60 seconds or 6 minutes. As fans of cold showers report, after the initial shock it will feel surprisingly normal and you’ll step out with a sense of calm wellbeing, a warm glow, and feeling as alert as if you’d downed a couple of espressos. 
How does it work?
The adrenaline rush of standing under icy water increases circulation and activates a rush of norepinephrine and endorphins, which improve your mood and focus. The shock also causes you to breathe more deeply. Try it and see if you can turn the temperature right down to ice cold without a sharp intake of breath. This, in turn, boosts heart rate and increases oxygen intake.

2Breathe slowly and deeply

When you feel distressed, 10 minutes of deep (and we mean properly right-into-your-belly) breathing is enough to trick your body into turning on its relaxation response. It’s simple, effective and free. The Iceman (see above) uses similar breathwork to control his body’s autonomous nervous system to the point where he can swim in Arctic seas without dying. But there is a trick to it. “Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose for five seconds,” advises Harvard Professor of Mind Body Medicine Dr Herbert Benson. “Hold for a couple of seconds at least, then exhale for five seconds.” Focus on breathing into your belly, expanding your lower ribs not your chest. As you breathe out imagine you’re blowing through a straw. If five seconds feels too hard start at two or three seconds and work your way up.
How does it work?
The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the heart, lungs and stomach, and it’s the reason we say ‘trust your gut’. Stimulating the vagus nerve by deep breathing activates a signal that tells the brain to turn off the fight or flight reflex, reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure and slow breathing - all of which soothes and calms us fast.

3. Listen to a song you love

Who doesn’t feel better blasting out one of their favorite songs? Listening to a much-loved piece of music floods the brain with feel-good chemical dopamine. This raises depressed mood and allows us to feel pleasure and shake off feelings of hopelessness. It won’t change your circumstances but it will make you feel more upbeat and able to cope in the space of a few bars.
How does it work?
According to neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor the key is to play a song or type of music that you’ve enjoyed in the past. This lights up parts of the brain linked to pleasure, memory and emotion. While you’re there, sing along at the top of your voice… those deep breaths will slow down your breathing!

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