6 Stress-Busting Mind Hacks

Stressed out woman shouting with fingers in ears

You're running for the subway, coffee sloshing out of your cup. Your cell phone is ringing somewhere in the deep reaches of your purse. You suspect it's your boss, demanding final adjustments to the presentation you'll give in 45 minutes, if you arrive on time.

The platform agent yells, "No beverages on the train!"

As you toss your desperately needed caffeine supply in the trash, you realize the papers tucked under your arm are not the spreadsheets you thought you had grabbed off the kitchen counter but your son's book report on King Tut.

"Holy hell!" you shout at no one in particular. "When is it going to stop?!"

Bad news: It's not. The perpetual buzz of modern life will continue swirling around you, but you don't have to get caught up in the spin. These stress-busting mind hacks can help.

1. Schedule a Bypass

No, not that kind of bypass. You don't need a thoracic surgeon (hopefully); you need to bypass your brain's stress-charged thinking. How? By arriving in your body. Next time you're ready to blow a gasket (or, ideally, before you get to that point) try this:

Stand with your two feet firmly planted on the ground, weight balanced equally between them. With minimal motion (like so minimal that a person standing next to you wouldn't know what you're up to), slowly rock your weight forward to the balls of your feet and hold there for a few seconds. Next, roll your weight back to your heels and hold. Then, roll your weight to your insteps and hold. Next, roll it out to the outer edges of your feet and hold. Then, transfer all your weight to your left foot. Next, shift your weight to your right foot. Finally, return to your original position, weight balanced equally between your feet.

Boom! You're back in your body. Congratulations! You now have a super power: You can go from zany to zen in 45 seconds.

2. Flush It

Flush it

Remember that old Drano ad featuring, in addition to borderline offensive caricatures of sorority sisters, a translucent, clogged pipe? The Drano pours in, and the pipe miraculously (or, you know, chemically) flushes clean?

Yeah, so sometimes your brain is that pipe, clogged up by the annoyances of your day: the driver who stole your parking space, that thing your co-worker said that's still bugging you, the project that hit a snag, those borderline offensive caricatures of sorority sisters in the Drano ad. When too much gunk clogs up your brain, you need to flush it.

Make a 15-minute date with a pencil and paper (or for you modern folks, a screen with type-y things on it). Write down every thought, worry, or stressor that's bothering your brain, from the tiny stuff (all my socks have holes in them) to the bigger stuff (my mammogram results came back fuzzy). When time's up, take a look at the list. How many of the entries actually need your time, effort and attention right now? Make a plan to address those. As for the rest? Flush 'em. (Metaphorically, that is. Literal flushing of writing paper or screens with type-y things on them not recommended.)

3. Don't Wait to Relax

Angry woman

Fill in the blank: I'll relax when ____________. When the project is done? When you've reached your goal? When the dishes are clean? When the kids are in bed?

Okay, so this may sound obnoxious, but why wait to relax? Why not relax now? Instead of putting relaxation off like some sort of end-game reward, you can relax in the middle of the doing. Next time you find yourself working at your computer with your shoulder muscles locked in a death grip, ask yourself, "What would it feel like to relax right now?" Notice what's tense in your body-shoulders, neck, back, hands. Let the tension go, part by part. Working hard is required; working stressed is optional.

4. Notice the Stories

Frustrated woman driver

When the stress hits the fan, notice the stories your brain starts telling you. Maybe the freeway has turned into a parking lot, and you're stuck in the middle of it, and you're late for your kid's school concert, and you're hungry, and you really need to pee, and there's nothing you can do about it. (Well, you could relieve yourself in that empty Big Gulp cup...that you could do.)

What is your brain saying? "I'm the worst parent ever. If I had left work 45 minutes early, I would be there by now. My child is probably peeking out through the stage curtain, tears in her eyes, wondering where I am . . . " That's your brain making a bad situation worse, and you need to redirect it.

Ask your brain, "What can I do about this?" (Note: Shouting at the guy in the car ahead of you, "Dude, there are ten feet between you and the car in front of you-that's progress we could all make if you'd just roll forward!" is not a viable option.) If there's truly nothing you can do, then it's time to accept your circumstances and make the best of them. Try a re-frame: You're not stuck in a traffic jam; you're experiencing some rare and precious alone time. Car dancing, anyone?

5. What's Happening Right Now?

If you've ever been to a baby shower, you've probably heard your fair share of (graphic, unsolicited) birth horror stories. Thirty-six hours of labor, no epidural? Sounds impossible!

Know how the warrior who brought that baby into the world did it? Ninety seconds at a time. That's right, even the most painful childbirth contractions last only thirty to ninety seconds, and then you get a breather before the next one comes along. Remember this: Difficult times, like childbirth contractions, don't happen in hours (or months or years); they happen in seconds. When the long view stresses you out, focus in on the present moment. Ask yourself, "What's happening right now?" Let everything else fall away: the past, the future, your worries or fears. Whatever is happening right now, you can handle it a few seconds at a time.

6. Choose One Thing

Woman sleeping on a cloud

Maybe it's not your personal life that stresses you out. Maybe you've found the secret to balancing work, relationships and leisure time (and if you have, for God's sake, share it). Maybe you lie awake nights worrying about larger issues, like global warming, like the Syrian refugee crisis, like the unending string of mass shootings in the U.S. (Well, if you weren't lying awake worrying about them before, maybe now you are. Sorry.)

Life is full of serious problems that seem too big to fix, which can leave a humanitarian like you feeling stressed out, helpless, and hopeless. Your brain hates feeling hopeless and helpless, so give it something to do. Choose one thing. No, you cannot solve the crisis of homelessness, but what can you do for the homeless people in your town? Take one action that addresses one of your big concerns. When you're done with that action, take another. This way, when your brain wakes you up in the middle of the night with its endless list of global troubles, you can tell it, "Yes, that's upsetting. We're working on it. We're helping. Now go back to sleep."

6 Stress-Busting Mind Hacks