Even before the pandemic, Americans were among the most stressed-out people in the world. Then COVID came and walloped us even more. Name a group of Americans, and there has likely been a recent poll showing their stress levels have become unbearable: parents, teachers, health care professionals, teens — the list goes on and on.
Of course, no one can self-care their way out this profoundly difficult moment, and if you’re overwhelmed, you should reach out to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional ASAP.
But if you just need a way to cope and recenter during acutely stressful moments, here are five incredibly simple strategies that might help — in 60 seconds or less. Try them all and see what works for you.
1. Imagine someone you really love.
“You can do this if you’re waiting for a subway, waiting for an elevator, or if you’re just unloading the dishwasher. Think of someone — vividly — that you really love,” Susie Moore, a life coach and author of “Let It Be Easy: Simple Ways To Stop Stressing And Start Living, told HuffPost. It can be your child, your partner, a friend or even your pet.
Remember what they look like, what they smell like. Think about how comforting they are, or what you feel like in their presence. “Just think about how much you love them,” Moore said.
Researchers have found that personal connection is one of the four pillars of personal happiness, and simply focusing on someone in this way can be enough to help you tap into your calm, happy place and cultivate connection.
2. Schedule your personal worry time.
If you’re feeling like your anxiety is really getting the best of you, one simple “hack” is to write down a designated worry time.
“Many people are anxious throughout the day and night, and everything in their environment gets associated with anxiety,” Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of “The Worry Cure,” previously told HuffPost. “What if you could put those worries up on a shelf, and take them down at, say, 12 p.m. for 20 minutes?”
People often think that if something pops into their mind, they have to worry about it then and there. But that’s not true, Leahy said. Instead, it can be helpful to put a time on your calendar when you can sit down and really marinate in your worries — and by the time you do, some of them may have faded.
So if you haven’t scheduled that designated worry time yet, go ahead and pop it in your calendar. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve taken steps to manage your stress rather than trying to ignore it or letting it control your days.
3. Throw yourself a dance party.
OK, this one probably takes more like two or three minutes, but if you’re feeling like you need to calm down, put on a song that you love and dance your heart out. Research shows that both music and dance can lower stress levels and increase happiness.
If dancing isn’t your thing — or you’re not in a place where you can pull it off — simply move your body for one minute instead. Stretch. Jump up and down. Hold a single yoga pose. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even do a short, vigorous chore! Try anything that will help your body release feel-good hormones like dopamine and that will get you out of your own head. (Bonus points if you get active while listening to a song you really love.)
4. Try a three-breath hug.
This one can be especially useful if the cause of your stress is a child who is mid-meltdown, but it really works anytime you’re with a friend or loved one who is down for a cuddle.
Here’s how it works: In a moment of stress, give your child or partner (or whoever you’re with) a “big bear hug,” Shonda Moralis, a women’s mindful empowerment coach, psychotherapist and author of “Breathe, Mama, Breathe,” previously told HuffPost. Then take three big inhales and three big exhales together.
5. Change your phone’s wallpaper.
Another way to take your mind off of whatever’s troubling you — and to once again foster that all-important sense of connection — is to look at a photo that makes you really happy. Moore likes to swap out her phone’s lock screen and wallpaper every week or so, so that she regularly sees something that makes her smile.
“Think of how often we reach for our phones every day. I think it’s over 200 [times],” she said. So put something on there that makes you feel really good, whether it’s a picture of your pet, a friend, some scenery that really moved you, or even a great meal you recently ate. Then change it out frequently, because your mind adapts to what it sees.
The goal? You want to have something on your phone that “gives you a little rush or makes you smile” when you look at it, Moore said.