“Light be the earth upon you, lightly rest.” – Euripides

There are moments in life when it feels like everything is hitting you all at once.  Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by worrisome thoughts, intense emotions, or general overstimulation from the world.  In stressful moments, it is important to feel confident in the knowledge that you have a “toolkit” that you can turn to in order to find effective instant relaxation techniques. Once you are able to regulate your emotions and effectively tolerate distress in the heat of the moment, you will bring your mind back to a calm place where you can handle whatever situation life presents with greater effectiveness.

Instant Relaxation

A recent article on WebMD provides 10 instant relaxation techniques to employ during times of stress:

(1) Meditate

You can reap the calming benefits of meditation in quick and easy ways when feeling overwhelmed or frazzled. Take a moment to pause and “check in” with your state of mind.  Begin to cultivate awareness of your observing self… that part of you that notices your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Choose to connect to the present moment and become mindful.  Start to notice your distressing thoughts and emotions without becoming fused to them.

Engage yourself in a brief activity that cultivates a state of mindful meditation.  This can be any type of activity that allows your attention to remain calmly and clearly focused in the present moment.  Take a “meditation break” from the current stress and allow yourself a few minutes to reconnect with yourself through mindfulness.  This quick relaxation technique can be as simple as being mindful and allowing your thoughts and feelings to come and go as you… notice your breath, take a walk, fold the laundry, etc.

(2) Picture Yourself Relaxed

If your current state of mind or emotions is too tense, frazzled, or “talkative” for you to feel comfortable meditating, try creating a peaceful and safe visualization in your mind.  Begin by picturing an image in your mind of a place or scene that allows you to feel at ease, calm, and serene.  It might be a place you have visited before that you associated with positive memories or a fantasy place.  It may even be just closing your eyes and imagining the comforting sensations of a soft blanket or pillow.

Whatever image(s) you call to mind, make a point of creating those images with as much detail as possible. Really notice all of the colors, smells, tastes, and textures of your soothing image.  Focus on the details of what you are imagining and allow yourself to be transported there in your mind.  The idea behind this visualization exercise is to replace your current stressful state of being with a sense of inner calm.  The more realistic your visualization is, the greater relaxation you can expect to experience.

(3) Breathe Deeply

When stressed, the body’s tendency is to begin to take tense and shallow breaths, which generally serves to heighten the stress.  Your body is preparing you for “fight” or “flight” in this way.  A great deal of the stress that most people experience does not actually warrant the need for the physical strength to ward off an attacker or to flee the scene.  It is up to you to tune in to your body and mindfully recognize your level of stress increasing. When you notice this occurring, you can intervene with a relaxation technique.

Slow and steady breaths will calm your physiological state as well as your mental and emotional states.  As soon as you notice your breath becoming rapid, tense, or shallow, take a moment to pause.  Intervene in this process of emotional escalation through choosing to slow your breathing and take in calming deep breaths.

Joan Borysenko, PhD, director of Harvard’s Mind-Body Clinical Programs, suggests letting out a big sigh as you drop your chest and exhale through gently pursed lips.  “Now imagine your low belly, or center, as a deep, powerful place. Feel your breath coming and going as your mind stays focused there. Inhale, feeling your entire belly, sides and lower back expand. Exhale, sighing again as you drop your chest, and feeling your belly, back and sides contract. Repeat 10 times, relaxing more fully each time.”

(4) Look Around You

Claire Michaels Wheeler, MD, PhD, author of 10 Simple Solutions to Stress, explains that “mindfulness is the here-and-now approach to living that makes daily life richer and more meaningful.”  When you pause during times of stress and remember the importance of making contact with the present moment through mindfulness you are more able to put things in perspective.  During times of stress, it is easy to “check out” of the present moment and become unfocused.  Mindfulness means bringing your full attention and awareness to one activity at a time. It allows you to pause, reflect, and slow down.

Practice this technique during a time of stress by pausing to focus on your immediate surroundings.  If you’re outside, pause to notice the sights, smells, and colors of the sky, trees, and flowers.  Breathe in the fresh air and really notice how it feels and smells.  If you’re indoors, deescalate your rising levels of stress by pausing to notice the details of your surroundings.  When you begin to focus your mind on the details of the present moment, it allows you to become more grounded and less fused to your thoughts and feelings.

(5) Drink Hot Tea

Nicholas Perricone, MD, author of 7 Secrets to Beauty, Health, and Longevity, explains that coffee has a tendency to raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol, whereas green tea offers the benefits of both health and beauty. Chamomile tea has long been considered a favorite for calming the mind and reducing stress.  Researchers from University College London have found that black tea may be a wonderful stress-reliever as well.  “Participants who drank regular black tea displayed lower levels of cortisol, and reported feeling calmer during six weeks of stressful situations than those who drank a placebo with the same amount of caffeine.”

During times of intense stress or tension, allow yourself a quiet break for a few minutes to restore your body and mind.  As you prepare a cup of hot tea to sit and relax for a few moments, engage in the activity with full mindfulness.  Choose to be fully present as you heat the water, take out your favorite mug, and choose an appealing tea.  Notice the sounds, smells, and tastes throughout the process.  The idea is to refocus your mind in a fully present way on an activity unrelated to the source of your stress.  Give yourself the gift of a few moments to restore your mind, body, and emotions.  Come back to the activity at hand with a balanced sense of calm.

Stress is inevitable.  It is how we choose to handle that stress that makes the difference between spiraling into a pattern of mental and emotional exhaustion versus coming back to the present moment with a sense of calm and clarity.  Which of these instant relaxation techniques are you most likely to remember to engage in during times of stress?  Begin to consider the benefits of building up your own personal “toolkit” to use during times of stress.

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I look forward to exploring five more instant relaxation techniques in my next post.

Kovacs, J. V. Blissing out: 10 relaxation techniques to reduce stress on-the-spot [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot

Featured image: Timeless Bliss Timeless by h.koppdelaney / CC BY-ND 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Mat Lever on December 7, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Good post – great tips and well written article. I would like to add one suggestion in terms of mind relaxation. People who live next to the sea, should spend as much time as possible on the beach. Even if the weather is not so good, it is a great place to be. Sea relives stress and is a powerful mind relaxation option. Sea is a great source of power and energy.
    Best Regards
    Mat Lever

    • Laura on December 20, 2011 at 6:51 am


      I’m glad you enjoyed this article on instant relaxation techniques. I like that suggestion about people who live next to the sea spending relaxation time on the beach. I can imagine living right near the beach to be a nice natural stress reduction resource. Thanks for your comment and for visiting my site.

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