10 Science-Backed Ways to Lower Your Stress This Instant (Really!)

Updated: Feb. 01, 2022

Stressed? We feel you. Here, science comes to the rescue with actual proven ways to decrease your stress level—right now.

Stress can creep up on you in seconds: When the car in front of you goes too slowly. When your kid throws a tantrum. When your spouse leaves a dirty dish nowhere near the kitchen (again!). We could go on and on. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could zap stress just as quickly as it comes on, bringing our nervous system to a zen state?

By trying a few of these tips, that’s actually possible… and also important. Managing stress is crucial not only for your mental state, but also for your heart health. Here’s where science comes to the rescue, as there are actual proven ways to decrease your stress levels instantly.

Science suggests taking a nature “pill”

happy, stress-free couple enjoying naturekate_sept2004/Getty Images

Here’s why According to a 2019 physiology study, just a 20-minute walk can lower your stress hormones, even in an urban environment (so city people, get out there too). The key is to walk in a spot that provides you with a sense of nature for 20 to 30 minutes. Do this three times a week at any time of day without social media or conversations, and your level of cortisol—the body’s main stress hormone—likely will drop. Can’t walk? Sitting in your favorite nature spot will have a similar calming effect, the study suggests.

Science suggests breathing deeply

Here’s why This can send a message to your brain that it’s time to calm down. Your brain sends the message to your body, and your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, so changing your breathing potentially can change the way you feel, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed Frontiers in Psychology.

Science suggests exercise

Here’s why Although we can reduce stress, it’s impossible to eliminate it, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (AADA) says. What to do? Exercise! Stress hormones like cortisol communicate with the brain. In turn, when stress hormones affect the brain’s nerve connections, the brain sends signals that can negatively impact the rest of the body. (Hello, irritability and lack of sleep.)

Harvard Medical School says a proven way to reduce stress is exercise, which reduces stress hormones and stimulates the good-guy chemicals known as endorphins. You don’t need to buy a lot of expensive equipment. And, if you could use some help getting your loved one to join you, here are expert-backed ways to motivate your partner to exercise.

Science suggests meditation

Mature man wearing hat meditating in yoga class10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Here’s why You’re actually training your brain to become calm and mindful. In more than 200 studies, meditation was found to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. This may be the simplest way to reduce stress quickly.

Need some help carving out the space and time to meditate? Check out these four ideas for creating the ultimate meditation space, from mindfulness experts.

Science suggests laughter

Here’s why Laughing lowers cortisol levels and boosts the body’s release of feel-good endorphins, mental health nonprofit HelpGuide.org says, referring to laughter as truly the best medicine. One study found a 20 percent reduction in agitation in dementia patients who underwent humor therapy.

Don’t feel like laughing when you’re stressed? Try popping on your fave stand-up comedian in the background or calling a funny friend. Still can’t find anything funny? Self-induced and self-simulated laughter work, too.

Science suggests playing with a pup

Here’s why Researchers in a 2018 study among college students found that hanging out with a dog reduces stress drastically. Other research published in Frontiers in Psychology has found that military veterans experience reduced stress and other mental health improvements after receiving a service dog. If you don’t have a dog, visit a shelter—or, even better, volunteer at one. You’ll experience consistent exposure to stress relief.

Science suggests taking a nap

Here’s why We almost feel like we don’t need to explain this one, as napping seems to make everything better. But a study by researchers at Sorbonne University found that just a 30-minute nap can promote overall well-being and improve mood and creativity. Another study found that napping for 45 minutes lowers blood pressure when responding to psychological stress. (Curious for more? Read 10 Things that Happen to Your Body When You Take a Nap.)

Science suggests doing a good deed

Here’s why Take a second to give money to charity, order a surprise gift for a friend, or compliment someone on their outfit. Research in the American Journal of Public Health found that when you help others, you lower your stress and possibly lengthen your life.

Science suggests drinking water

Mid adult woman drinking water at park during sunny dayThe Good Brigade/Getty Images

Here’s why According to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, stress may simply be a response to your hydration state. It all may boil down to evolution: Early humans were anxious about finding water (and food). Today, it’s not typically a problem, so put your mind and your body at ease, and grab a glass of water.

For more, read 7 Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration—and How to Treat It.

Science suggests you unplug

Here’s why The American Psychological Association found that those who are constantly checking their email and social media are more stressed than those who take time off from electronic devices. If you have to be online for work, take at least two 10-minute breaks from electronic devices to lower your blood pressure and stress levels. This could help you feel calmer all day.

We feel better already. Here’s more self-care insight:

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