As anyone who's ever cashed a paycheck knows, you can't prevent the random sweating, heart palpitations, and the general sense of BAAGGHHH! you get when a colossal project lands on your desk or your boss calls you out for being late again. But you can temper all those feelings and bring your vitals back to baseline fairly quickly—with a plan. So try one of these 60-seconds fixes the next time you feel stressed.
1. Slow and deepen your breath. "When you get stressed, you release adrenaline, which produces more stress and makes you panic," explains Amit Sood, MD, a professor and stress expert at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minnesota. "But slow, deep breaths reduce adrenaline levels, so it's very difficult to be stressed while breathing deeply," he adds.
2. Ask yourself, "Will this matter five years from now?" Putting the situation into a greater context can make a life-shattering moment feel less apocalyptic.
3. Treat yo self to a piece of dark chocolate. The best way to counter the part of your brain that's responsible for screaming, "FIRE! FIRE! THE HOUSE IS BURNING DOWN!" when the world's smallest candle tips over is to turn on the prefrontal cortex: It's the rational area of your brain that reminds you to R-E-L-A-X when a situation doesn't actually warrant a 911 call. Chocolate—bless it—contains flavonoids that trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, thereby activating the all-important prefrontal cortex. (While there are some cocoa chemicals at play here, any other treat that registers as a reward can also be effective, according to Dr. Sood.)
4. Doodle. Because creativity also turns on the rational prefrontal cortex, a prettier to-do list may actually make the tasks on there feel a bit more manageable, according to Dr. Sood.
5. Determine what's going right. Obsess over the worst news of the day—particularly something you can't change—and you're looking at a downward spiral. So that deadline completely fell off your radar? NBD, you just finished another important assignment—and totally nailed it. Aren't you so glad you spent your time on that?!
6. Surf YouTube for a hot sec. You're looking for a laugh. (Might I recommend a clueless guys video? Or one where little girls give big ones advice? ) From an evolutionary standpoint, laughter implies trust and social connection—it's non-threatening, regardless of the context, Dr. Sood explains. Another thing: Laughing is good physical exercise with actual aerobic effects. When you've only got 60 seconds (not quiiite enough time to break a sweat), laugher is your stand-in for exercise, which is inherently stress-relieving.
7. Eat a high-carb, high-fat snack. Carbohydrates of any kind—including sugar— activate the brain's reward center. And fat is inherently comforting because it's high in calories, which were vital for our ancestors' survival during stressful times, Dr. Sood explains.
Order pizza, grilled cheese, fries, or full-fat
yogurt ice cream for lunch on particularly bad days. And keep a jar of peanut butter and a box of whole-wheat crackers at your desk for some instant relief. (Just cap it at one serving a day, lest you muster up a stomachache that reactivates the negativity.)
8. Call your mom. Just hearing your mom's voice musters up the love hormone and washes away the stress hormone cortisol, according to the sweetest study ever. If you can't reach your mom (or she tends to stress you out), a friend's voice should do the trick.
9. Stretch. A good stretch can release endorphins and healthy chemicals that help your body counter its involuntary stress response. Really try to picture the muscles getting longer, which takes your attention away from the stressor and refocuses it on the body part you're stretching. (Try these stretches to cure literally any tension that plagues you.)
10. Sniff a scent you <3 <3 <3. "Aromatherapy has a relaxing effect because the nose is connected to the brain," Dr. Sood explains. Catch a whiff of something that reminds of a positive memory, and you'll set off the reward center of your brain. It's why you should keep a lotion that reminds you of bae (or anything else you're into) on hand for times when stress hits hard.
11. Relax your jaw. "This is associated with stress relief because the jaw is a vent to release energy," Dr. Sood says.
12. Refill your coffee/tea cup. Sipping on your go-to activates your reward center and staves off dehydration, which can trigger stress all on its own.
Besides, if you drink caffeine regularly, and it's been a while since your last fix, caffeine can re-energize you and improve your focus, so you can get to the bottom of whatever is stressing you out much faster.
13. Turn on Spotify's Mood Booster channel. "When you listen to music, it holds your hand and pulls you into the mood of the music," Dr. Sood says. Assuming you're listening to an upbeat song you actually like, this triggers a surge of dopamine that makes you happy—with lasting effects.
14. Text a "thank youuu!!!!" to literally anyone. "It's difficult to choose to be happy, but you can choose to be grateful, and that musters up positive emotions," Dr. Sood explains. So thank your partner for putting up with you, your friend for a fun time last night, or a favorite coworker for making your job measurably more tolerable.
15. Block time on your calendar for each item on your to-do list.
Often, stress hits when demands (like a billion-point to-do list) and resources (Time! Precious time!) misalign, according to David Ballard, PhD, psychologist and assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Organization.
But it's way easier to recover from stress once the stressor is out of the picture. So, when you're up against the clock, schedule tasks as if they're meetings. Get the tough stuff out of the way first thing so you can resort to simpler tasks when your energy flags later on.
16. Take a break. "Taking 30-second breaks here and there can be very beneficial to the bigger picture," Dr. Ballard says. Even when you're under time pressure, taking brief breaks throughout the day gives you time to replenish and come back with more focus and energy, so you make up for lost time the second you sit down, he adds.
17. Ask for help. "One of the top causes of stress in the workplace is unrealistic expectations," Dr. Ballad says. And you won't get a hand or a break by moping around tight-lipped. Open a dialogue with your supervisor about what you need to perform your best work, whether that's an extra person to help out with a project or an extra day get your work done.
18. Try progressive muscle relaxation. It's a strategy that involves tightening, then relaxing one muscle group at time, which helps you zero in on where you're holding tension so you can physically release it—all without leaving your desk chair. Start by tensing, then relaxing your arms, your legs, your back and shoulders, then your neck. "Focusing on one thing deliberately clears your head of distractions," Dr. Ballard says. ~*CuRed!~*
19. Focus on an object beyond your screen. The act of staring at your screen can build up enormous tension even without all the other stressful crap that sets you off, Dr. Ballard says. And eye strain can trigger headaches and all the physical discomforts that look and feel like stress. So rest your eyes by focusing on an object that's more than one arm's length away from you, like a building you can see from your window, or a girl on the other side of the office. Blink. Blink again. How good does that feel!?
20. Change your desktop screensaver to something green.
Recent research suggests you don't have to be out in the Great Outdoors to reap all the mood-boosting effects of nature. In a pinch—i.e., when you're chained to your desk for the foreseeable future—all you need to do is look at something green and let the good vibes flow.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.