Why does it seem like we often find ourselves stressed and overwhelmed at the most inopportune times – like in the middle of the work day or while stuck in traffic?

In today’s busy world, we are made to feel like we just have to plow through whatever is bothering us. If you take the time to stop and address that feeling of it all being too much to handle right now, you could be considered weak or soft. However, when you don’t make time to deal with the little things stressing you out, they can pile up and become big things that steal your joy.

So next time you feel stressed, take a couple of minutes to do something to bring your stress level down. Here are five things you can do in two minutes or less from just about anywhere to combat stress the moment you begin to feel overwhelmed.

1. Breathe deeply. Inhale through the nose for a count of six. Your abdomen should expand as you inhale and your lungs fill up. Hold it in for a count of three. Then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of nine. Focus on making sure that your abdomen expands when you breathe in. On the exhale, your abdomen should close in like you are literally squeezing the air out of yourself. Do this exercise several times.

2. Go to your happy place. Not literally; allow your imagination to take you to a place of peace by using visualization. “Visualization is the act of imagining yourself in a peaceful and safe environment – a place that makes you relaxed and happy.” Think about your favorite place, a place where you can be carefree and away from the responsibilities of life, and go there. Think back to a place and time where you felt safe and happy. It can be a place you go to now or even a place from your childhood. I usually go back to my honeymoon lounging on the beach in Jamaica. Close your eyes and try to really picture the place in your mind. Get all of your senses involved. What do you see there? What do you hear? What do you smell? Set a timer if you need to, because for two minutes you should let yourself get totally lost in the dream.

3. Move your body. Take a walk, preferably away from wherever you began to feel the tension building. Or outside where you can get some fresh air. Even if it’s just walking out the front door to the end of the block and back, if you can’t make it outside walk to the next floor or even into another room and then around the room a time or two. Get a change of scenery and get your blood pumping. If you’re in the car, when you stop at a red light or find yourself stalled in traffic, try stretching your arms, moving your head side to side to stretch your neck, rotating your shoulders, and twisting your torso. Make sure your foot stays firmly on the brake, of course.

4. Get it off your chest. Sometimes it’s better to not keep whatever is stressing you bottled up. You can take a moment to discuss it with someone you trust. Make sure you let the person know beforehand whether you are just venting or if you are really looking for advice (which may take more than a couple of minutes). If you pray, talk it out with God. If you don’t pray and don’t want to discuss it with anyone, try saying it out loud or write it in a journal. Just the act of getting the words out of your head into the universe, or onto the paper, can help you to see that what is stressing you out isn’t really as all-encompassing as you originally thought.

5. Listen to a song. Plug in your earphones (or aux cable if you are in the car) and click on your favorite playlist. I have found that music nurses most wounds and has the power to transform your state of mind. Try a song with a calming melody, an encouraging message, or an upbeat tempo.

What would you add to this list? What do you do when you are overwhelmed and need an immediate relief from what’s stressing you out, but you don’t have a lot of time?


Shannon McCullough M.A. is a working mother of two by day, and by night (and on weekends and lunch breaks) a Counselor Trainee and Mental Health Advocate. She is halfway through her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program with the ultimate goal of setting up a private practice in her hometown of Baltimore City, MD that caters to traditionally underserved populations, like minority youth and working poor parents. She is on a mission to help individuals take better care of their mental health so they can live their happiest, healthiest lives.

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