Whether you have a history of panic attacks or you consider yourself cool as a cucumber, anxiety happens to everyone. Seriously. And while there are certainly longer-term solutions, sometimes you just need a quick fix for when you’re feeling particularly stressed. Enter these 29 little ways to calm anxiety, from commenting on a friend’s Instagram post to making a cup of green tea.
29 Little Ways to Calm Anxiety
1. Exercise—Even Just for 5 Minutes
Getting your sweat on has been proven to decrease stress, improve sleep, boost productivity and lift your mood. That's largely thanks to those feel-good chemicals, endorphins. And according to the American Psychological Association, you should feel the mood-enhancement effects of exercise after just five minutes (and it doesn't have to be a strenuous workout, either). But you knew that already, right?
2. Sniff an Orange
Studies have shown that the scent of a peeled orange can drastically reduce stress and improve mood swings. Whether you choose to eat it raw or bake it into a delicious cake afterward is up to you.
3. Describe Your Surroundings in Your Head
If you feel sudden panic strike, try to observe your surroundings and start describing things—in your head—in increasing detail. For example: There’s a chair. It has four legs. The legs are wooden. The cushion is embroidered. The embroidery is blue and white. It has white stitching. Whether it’s a chair or a book cover or a cute puppy, the idea is that the more you focus on describing something, the less you focus on freaking out. The more of your brain you’re using to think of words to describe a golden retriever, the less of your brain you’re using to think about any negative thoughts swirling around your head.
4. Distract Yourself
Start a new show on Netflix, listen to some music, try that new recipe you’ve had flagged for weeks—whatever sounds appealing that will take your mind off of your anxiety. “I think it is very important to distract ourselves right now,” explains Irina Firstein, LCSW, a licensed individual and couple’s therapist. She also points out that it’s a great time to tackle a project around the house that you’ve been meaning to get done. Who’s ready to reorganize the basement?
5. Cancel Plans
We know happy hour is fun, but it’s also fine to bail if you’re feeling overwhelmed. According to one study published in the British Journal of Psychology, flaking out can actually make you happier since it gives you that necessary me-time you’ve been craving all day. (Self-induced guilt trip not included.)
6. Write a Quick Gratitude List
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology asked participants to jot down a few sentences each week, focusing on specific topics. One group wrote about the things that they were grateful for that week, a second group wrote about the things that had displeased them and a third group wrote about things that had happened (neither positive or negative). After ten weeks, researchers found that those who had written about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than the other two groups. Not only that, but they had also exercised more and had fewer visits to the doctor. So grab a notebook and try to jot down a few things that you’re thankful for each week. Hey, even no traffic on your daily commute is a win in our book.
7. Make a List
This tip comes courtesy of Seattle-based author Moorea Seal. She tells us, “Writing lists is still the fastest and most efficient way for me to practice a little self-care, not just to keep track of my tasks (which, obviously is incredibly helpful), but also to tally the me I feel and see within.” Seal likes to start with a simple but insightful prompt, like ‘What are difficult things in the past that have changed you for the better?’ ‘Which characters in books have you read do you most relate to?’ or ‘How have my friends made me feel grateful this year?’ She explains, “You may wind up with a list of 159 items or just three. Either way, you've done great. And what you've put on the page can help you discover all of those thoughts that were hiding in the tiny corners of your brain. My lists have taught me so much about myself, my thoughts and my self worth. So grab a pen, some scratch paper and start finding yourself.”
8. Try Diaphragmatic Breathing
“A panic attack throws you into physiological distress because your brain believes you are in need of protection (aka in fight or flight mode),” psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee says. “So one of the most effective strategies is to engage in diaphragmatic breathing.” That’s because when you’re experiencing a panic attack, your body tenses up and you tend to hyperventilate, taking short, quick breaths from your chest. “This type of breathing sends a signal to your brain that you are in distress, perpetuating the physiological escalation and by proxy, the panic attack.” Breathing through your diaphragm, on the other hand, sends a signal to your brain that you are safe and relaxed, which calms your physiology down and lets your body know that it no longer needs to be in hyper drive. Learn how to breathe from the diaphragm here.
9. Snack on a Fermented Food
Whether you’re at a dinner party or going on a date, several studies conducted at the University of Maryland and William and Mary found that eating fermented food (like sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi) can reduce anxiety.
10. Go for a Walk
Specifically, one where you can see trees. Stanford researchers have found that a 90-minute walk through a natural setting can decrease depressive thoughts.
11. Adopt a Calming Mantra
“Loving mantras like ‘I am safe and loved’ that can be repeated over and over can drown out fears,” advises Satya Doyle Byock, MA, LPC, founder of Quarterlife. Pick one that feels reassuring to you like ‘all is well’ or ‘inhale calm, exhale worry’ and repeat it to yourself when you start to feel anxious. You can also write it down and hang it somewhere you’ll see it regularly for a little reminder.
12. Listen to a Helpful Podcast
There are a number of mental health-focused podcasts. One we love for those who deal with anxiety is “Not Another Anxiety Show.” On this podcast for everyone from “the always anxious to the occasionally overwhelmed to the painfully panicked,” host Kelli Walker, registered nurse, certified health and wellness coach and former agoraphobe, talks about what anxiety really is, why the best of us can get caught in its web and how to move past its sticky grip. Expect practical tips, resources and guidance while gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.
Not only does doing something good for others help those in need, but it can also boost your own happiness. That’s according to a report published in BMC Public Health in which researchers reviewed 40 studies from the past 20 years. They found that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased well-being and a higher sense of life satisfaction. (Oh, and a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying, so you know, not too shabby.)
14. Dab Cold Water Behind Your Ears
Or on your wrists. Both areas have tons of veins running through them, so when cooled off, they can relax your entire body.
15. Try an Adult Coloring Book
A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology shows that coloring can reduce stress and improve concentration and quality of sleep. So grab some colored pencils and get to it.
16. Pull on Your Weighted Blanket
This is the first anti-anxiety tool that comes to mind for Molly Giorgio, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in West Hartford, Connecticut. “Any kind of weighted blanket will really help you calm down,” she explains. “They give you that sense of being held, of almost being hugged,” adds Gin Love Thompson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and relationship expert. Here are ten weighted blankets we recommend.
17. Book Your Next Vacation
Spending money on experiences (hellooo, Paris) gives us more happiness than dishing out for material objects such as a new TV, according to a Cornell University study. BRB, checking Expedia.
18. Do the Self-Care You Like (Which Isn’t Necessarily What Everyone Else Is Doing)
A friend who deals with anxiety tells us, “Something that has really been helping me is focusing on self-care practices that actually feel good to me—like taking a bath and reading. There’s a huge emphasis on specific self-care right now, like streaming yoga, meditation and exercise classes, and those are great, as long as you actually feel like doing them, not just because you feel like you should.”
19. Plan Your Exit
This one’s for the socially anxious out there. Obviously, if you’re socializing and having a good time, you should stay, but giving yourself a limit of, say, two hours might help you relax (it’s a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-type thing). Alternatively, you could make it into a challenge by setting a goal of talking to four new people before you ghost the party.
20. Practice the 4-7-8 Breathing Method
A lot of times, we forget to breathe properly as we go about our day. But the right technique matters, especially at night, since deep, slow, self-aware breathing is one of the best methods for releasing stress and tension during this time. That’s when Oprah’s go-to sleep guru, Dr. Michael Breus recommends 4-7-8 Method. Here’s how it works: First, inhale for four seconds, then hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale slowly for eight seconds. When you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep (or if you wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night), put this technique into action. It will not only help kick off a series of physiological changes that aid relaxation, it might reduce stressful thinking, too.
21. Play with a Dog
Don’t have your own four-legged friend? Offer to walk your neighbor’s dog for an hour, since people with pets are proven to be generally happier than those without.
22. Plan Your Life 12 Hours at a Time
“I’ve started to retrain myself to plan only for the day that lies ahead,” explains Rachel Bowie, PureWow’s director of special projects. “Compartmentalizing my life into 12-hour chunks makes all the worry for the future feel a bit less daunting. It may not be true, but I like thinking, OK, today? That I can control! It’s also a great retraining on living in the moment. Pre-COVID-19, I spent so much time strategizing my next move. The restriction to focus only on the present has made me breathe a bit deeper, inhale fresh air from an open window a bit longer and cherish moments with my family—as long as my 2-year-old isn’t melting down.”
23. Comment on a Friend’s New IG Post
A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University shows that interacting with friends on Facebook actually increased users’ feelings of well-being. So go ahead, let Jules know you “LYSM.”
24. Spend Some Time in Your Garden
Gardening has long been linked to the reduction of stress, anxiety and depression. Ever heard of horticultural therapy? It’s basically just using planting and gardening to improve mental and physical health, and it’s been studied since the 19th century (and was popularized in the 1940s and ‘50s when gardening was used to rehabilitate hospitalized war veterans). According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, “Today, horticultural therapy is accepted as a beneficial and effective therapeutic modality. It is widely used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational and community settings.” How does it work? “Scientifically, there is evidence that suggests that there are two main modes of attention,” says horticulturist David Domoney. “Focused attention, which is what we use when we are at work, and fascination, which is what we use when we take part in hobbies such as gardening. In this theory, too much focused attention can lead to stress, and fascination then plays a part in restoring our attention and alleviating that anxious feeling we get when we are put under too much pressure, or feel like we can’t cope.”
25. Allow Yourself to Feel Anxious for a Bit
When all else fails, releasing some negative energy can help you bounce back from a stressful day. Scream into a pillow, yell out the window, take a kickboxing class…whatever it takes to get it out of your system.
Here’s some fascinating science: According to a Harvard University study, meditation may actually change the structure of your brain (in a good way). Researchers found that people who meditate had a decrease in brain cell volume in the amygdala, the area of that brain that is responsible for fear, anxiety and stress. Whoa. Want to try it but not sure where to start? Here are five great meditation tips for beginners.
27. Make a Cup of Green Tea
Green tea contains an amino acid called L-Theanine, which can help decrease stress and anxiety. Plus, the warm cup of goodness also contains EGCG, a compound found in tea that increases calm feelings. Win-win.
28. Count Backward
It sounds a bit strange, but believe us when we say that it’s awfully hard to worry about your impending client meeting at work when you’re trying to remember if six comes before or after seven. Repeat as many times as necessary.
29. Listen to Your Favorite Song
Get jazzed up every time you hear Beyoncé? Or are you more of a Rolling Stones type of girl? Either way, putting on your favorite feel-good tune can put you in the mood you need to conquer the task at hand.