A few moments of self-care can do wonders to relieve stress.

Ready, Set, Breathe… 3 Calming Strategies for Stress

Stress is a reality of modern life under any circumstances, but this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic upending our lives, stress levels are at an all-time high. And stress doesn’t just make you tense and keep you awake at night – it’s seriously bad for your health.

The good news is that while we can’t do much about the events around us that are causing such stress, we have more power than we realize over how it affects us.

These four self-care tips can’t banish stress, but they can help you cope better.

1. Practice Mindful Breathing

You may have heard people talk about deep breathing or “belly breathing” as a technique for self-calming in stressful situations. In fact, it’s one of the most effective things you can do to hit the re-set button when stress is sending you over the edge. And it’s easy, too – here’s how.

  1. Sit or lie on your back in a comfortable position and put one hand on your abdomen just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and breathe out fully, feeling your belly rise under your hand. (The hand on your chest should not rise.) It may help to breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling.
  3. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times, letting your breath out and in as slowly as you can.

2. Work with Your Reactions

When dealing with stressful events, or even daily irritations, we can reduce their impact on us by working with our reactions. After all, we can’t control the situation, but how we react to it is under our control. The practice of mindfulness offers some useful tools we can use right in the moment to prevent things from getting to us.

  • When you feel an emotion like frustration, anger, or hurt feelings arise, pause and take a moment to notice and label the feeling, such as “I’m feeling really irritated” or “that makes me sad.”
  • Before following through with your immediate reaction, take few breaths to relax, letting go of any constriction or tension.
  • Evaluate before acting. If there’s a useful response to the situation, go for it. But if not, work on letting things be, recognizing that you have the power not to react.
  • Practice taking this pause until it becomes a habit and watch your day-to-day stress level decrease.

3. Take it Easy

Trying to do it all yourself is one of the top causes of burnout. And when you throw perfectionism into the mix, the result can be exhaustion and even illness. Look over your to-do list and think about ways you can delegate tasks and ask for help, at work and in your home life. For example, maybe you and a friend can take turns picking up a few extra items for each other at the store, so both of you can go longer between shopping trips.

4. Do a Standards Check

Next take a look at your expectations for yourself – are they maybe a little high? Perfectionism is one of the most common contributors to feeling stressed-out. Overly picky standards can affect others as well – sometimes people hesitate to help if they feel their efforts won’t be up to your mark. (Who wants to chop vegetables for dinner if the chef is only going to re-chop them?) Hand over the vacuum cleaner, gardening clippers, or errand list and let go of the task. Even if it gets done differently than you would do it, it’s done!


Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.