4 ‘stress resets’ that can soothe your body and mind in minutes : Life Kit : NPR

1707957771 4 stress resets that can soothe your body and mind | isentertainmentgroup

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Close-up photograph of a purple pencil with an eraser that is chewed up out of stress, displayed against a pink background.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

When Jenny Taitz returned to work after giving birth to her second child, she started a bad habit. Out of anxiety, she chewed on her fingernail to the point that it got infected. And she needed emergency surgery to treat it.

If she had only paused for an emotional « reset, » or taken a moment to respond to her stress, she might have saved herself hours in the ER, says Taitz, a clinical psychologist. « Stress resets are quick ways to improve how you feel in minutes. They allow you to do things that will help you solve problems rather than make things so much worse for yourself. »

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Jenny Taitz is a clinical psychologist and the author of Stress Resets: How to Soothe Your Body and Mind in Minutes.

Photograph by Dawn Bowery; Workman Publishing Company


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Photograph by Dawn Bowery; Workman Publishing Company

Jenny Taitz is a clinical psychologist and the author of Stress Resets: How to Soothe Your Body and Mind in Minutes.

Photograph by Dawn Bowery; Workman Publishing Company

That’s the focus of Taitz’s new book published in January, Stress Resets: How to Soothe Your Body and Mind in Minutes. In it, she shares 75 science-backed techniques to help alleviate stress and anxiety in real time — « no ponderous meditations, medications or martinis required, » she writes.

Taitz interviewed experts and combed through the latest research to compile a comprehensive menu of resets for her book. She explains what to do if you have trouble focusing or breathing, feel stuck in a cycle of panic, or can’t stop obsessing over a problem. Here are a few of our favorites.

Name that emotion

Use when: You feel overwhelmed with negative emotions and you’re not sure why you feel this way.

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Photograph of several layered cards that are white with black type that list different emotions, including grief, guilt, jealousy, resentment, resentment, surprise, boredom, disgust, disappointment, loneliness, sadness, anger, anxiety, remorse, despair and worry

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR


hide caption

toggle caption

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Photograph of several layered cards that are white with black type that list different emotions, including grief, guilt, jealousy, resentment, resentment, surprise, boredom, disgust, disappointment, loneliness, sadness, anger, anxiety, remorse, despair and worry

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

The technique: Observe and describe the emotion passing through you and label its intensity. Maybe you’re feeling dejected and you’re at a 3 on a 0 to 5 scale. When you’re able to observe your emotion, this can « loosen the grip » of your sadness, anger or stress and « not be engulfed by them, » says Taitz.

Researchers call this technique « affect labeling. » Taitz says it can disrupt the activity in your limbic system, the emotional part of the brain. It allows you to instead activate the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the more reasonable part of your brain, which reduces the intensity of your emotions. Studies have shown that when people viewed upsetting images and labeled their emotions, they experienced significantly less distress.

Make a pie chart of your life

Use when: There’s been an upsetting event and now you think everything is terrible — for example, you didn’t get the job you really, really wanted.

Photograph of a pie chart constructed out of cut paper in various colorful sparkly shades, on top of a blue backdrop.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Photograph of a pie chart constructed out of cut paper in various colorful sparkly shades, on top of a blue backdrop.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

The technique: Grab a pen and paper and make a list of what you care most about: health, friendships, career, hobbies, family, pets. Assign each item a percentage based on how much it matters to you — then draw each segment in a pie chart.

The image should be an instant reminder that « there are a lot of other things that matter » in your life, says Taitz. So don’t let the one thing that upsets you take up 100% of your thoughts.

The pie chart method is grounded in something called psychological flexibility, says Taitz. This is the ability to adapt to changing surroundings smoothly. Exercises like this one can help you practice perspective.

Wear a half smile

Use when: You’re in a setting that is making you anxious, but you have to get through it — like when you’re sitting in traffic, or about to give a big wedding speech.

Photograph of roll of colorful smiley face stickers unrolling in a spiral against a pink and purple background.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

Photograph of roll of colorful smiley face stickers unrolling in a spiral against a pink and purple background.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

The technique: Do you tense up your face when you’re stressed? If so, Taitz wants you to try a half smile.

Ever so slightly raise the upper corners of your lips. This will automatically reduce all that tension between your eyebrows and relax your face muscles, communicating to your brain that everything’s OK, she says.

Taitz recommends wearing a half smile when you’re in a strenuous or anxious setting. « If you’re sitting in a lot of traffic, clenching your hands on the steering wheel and tensing your face, that’s not going to help you accept what is happening, » says Taitz. « But if you can soften your face, you’re more likely to make peace » with your situation.

The half smile technique is rooted in what some researchers call the facial feedback hypothesis, the theory that our faces influence our emotions. In one 3,800-person study from 2022, people who changed their facial expressions to appear happier felt more positive emotions as a result.

The key is not to fake it, says Taitz. Focus on feeling tranquil both inside and out.

Do a good deed

Use when: You feel like you have no control over your life. Your apartment flooded, your date canceled, you lost your wallet – nothing seems to be going right!

A bouquet of pink and orange flowers made out of crepe paper are rolled up in a brown paper wrapper and held against a blue backdrop.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

A bouquet of pink and orange flowers made out of crepe paper are rolled up in a brown paper wrapper and held against a blue backdrop.

Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR

The technique: Many of the reasons why we feel stressed « are because we feel powerless. We’re so focused on all the things going wrong, » says Taitz.

Doing a good deed can remind you that you have the power and ability to make things better — for yourself and others. « You can live by your values even if so much is out of your control, » she says.

These kind acts don’t have to be time-consuming, she adds. They can be small, positive actions that you can do in a pinch: Send a friend a greeting card out of the blue. Be extra kind to your neighbors. Find a volunteer opportunity that resonates with you and commit to it.

These acts may even offer positive benefits to your health. One 800-person study of older adults found that those who did good deeds, like helping family members with errands or providing childcare, had a lower chance of dying from stress-related causes.

Taitz says all of these are actions like « small wheels on a big suitcase. » A tiny tool can help make a difference in carrying a huge load. So pause the next time you’re feeling stressed and give yourself a reset. « A moment of awareness and a strategy can make what feels overwhelming doable. »

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Margaret Cirino. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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