Fast Fixes: 15 Ways to Relax in Less Than 15 Minutes

Because who has time for a whole day of R&R?

If you’re like most people, “de-stressing” has been on your to-do list for decades. After all, stress can affect your health — and is the most commonly reported headache trigger. But you don’t have to wait for life to settle down or a vacation to come around to unwind. A bevy of research shows that you may be able to slash stress in just minutes a day.

Here are 15 ways to relax in less than 15 minutes that may work for some people.

  1. Listen to Music. Put your music library to good use. In one study, people who listened to relaxing music before performing a stressful task felt less anxiety and had lower blood pressure levels compared to those who completed the task without the tunes. 1
  2. Practice Yoga. Bend your way to less stress. Take a few beginner classes and then you’ll be able to do stretches and poses on your own when you have a small chunk of time.
  3. Exercise Outside. Any exercise can reduce stress, but taking that workout outdoors might be especially helpful. One study found that outdoor walking increases energy and positive thinking while slashing tension, anger and depression even better than indoor walking does. 2
  4. Smile. Fake it ‘till you make it! Research shows that even a forced smile can decrease stress levels and slow a racing heart. 3
  5. Eat an Orange. Or anything with vitamin C, for that matter. In one German study, researchers put participants through the wringer, asking them to complete a series of stressful tasks. They found that those participants who had consumed vitamin C beforehand had lower blood pressure and cortisol levels than those who didn’t. 4
  6. Get Fragrant. Light a candle, massage some oils, it doesn’t matter. Aromatherapy may reduce stress levels. 5
  7. Play With Animals. The presence of a pet can reduce heart rate and blood pressure due to stress. Consider it an excuse to visit your local dog park. 6
  8. Eat Chocolate. A certain type of stress eating may not be so bad for some after all. Antioxidants in cacao may reduce blood pressure. 7
  9. Chew Gum. Research in Physiology & Behavior shows that chewing gum can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol for some. 8
  10. Take a Deep Breath. The age-old trick really does work. Deep breathing, like chewing gum, helps lower the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 9
  11. Hug It Out. Sometimes you just need a hug. One study found that when women hug their significant others, their blood pressure lowers and their levels of oxytocin, commonly called the “cuddle” hormone, increase. 10
  12. Call a Friend. Go ahead, vent. Having a friend around during a bad experience can help reduce cortisol spikesCalling your mom can also help reduce stress for some. 11
  13. Watch a Funny Video. Or do anything that gives you the giggles. Laughter may positively affect depression, insomnia and sleep quality. 12
  14. Get a Massage. Research from (who else?) Swedish scientists shows that massage may reduce stress by quelling sympathetic nervous activity. Luckily, you don’t have to shell out a ton of time or money to get the benefits of massage. According to the study, it only takes five minutes. Ask a friend to give your shoulders a quick squeeze or invest in a foam roller for self-massage. 13
  15. Meditate. Quiet your mind. In one study, full-time workers who performed two quick meditation sessions a day reduced their stress and upped their moods. 14 Book end your day with calmness by meditating right after you wake up and just before going to bed.

Stress is one of the leading causes of headaches for many people. See our complete list of articles on about stress for more information.

Want to know more? Learn the science behind headaches in our educational video.

Show References

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1.  Wendy E. J. Knight and Nikki S. Rickard. Relaxing Music Prevents Stress-Induced Increases in Subjective Anxiety, Systolic Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate in Healthy Males and Females. J Music Ther (2001) 38 (4): 254-272 doi:10.1093/jmt/38.4.254

2.  Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. J. Thompson Coon, K. Boddy, K. Stein, R. Whear, J. Barton, and M. H. Depledge. Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (5), 1761-1772

3.  Kraft TL, Pressman SD. Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-8. doi: 10.1177/0956797612445312. Epub 2012 Sep 24. PubMed PMID: 23012270

4.   Brody S, Preut R, Schommer K, Schürmeyer TH. A Randomized Controlled Trial of High Dose Ascorbic Acid for Reduction of Blood Pressure, Cortisol, and Subjective Responses to Psychological Stress. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2002 Jan;159(3):319-24. Epub 2001 Nov 20. PubMed PMID: 11862365.

5.  Seo JY. The Effects of Aromatherapy on Stress and Stress Responses in Adolescents. J Korean Acad Nurs. 2009 Jun;39(3):357-65. doi: 10.4040/jkan.2009.39.3.357. Korean. PubMed PMID: 19571632.

6.  Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress. Karen Allen, Barbara E. Shykoff, and Joseph L. Izzo, Jr. Hypertension. 2001;38:815-820.

7.  Ried K, Sullivan TR, Fakler P, Frank OR, Stocks NP. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Aug 15;8:CD008893. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2. Review. PubMed PMID: 22895979.

8.  Scholey A, Haskell C, Robertson B, Kennedy D, Milne A, Wetherell M. Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Physiol Behav. 2009 Jun 22;97(3-4):304-12. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.02.028. Epub 2009 Mar 5. PubMed PMID: 19268676.

9.  Cea Ugarte JI, Gonzalez-Pinto Arrillaga A, Cabo Gonzalez OM. [Efficacy of the controlled breathing therapy on stress: biological correlates. preliminary study]. Rev Enferm. 2010 May;33(5):48-54. Spanish. PubMed PMID: 20617660.

10.  Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biol Psychol. 2005 Apr;69(1):5-21. Epub 2004 Dec 29. PubMed PMID: 15740822.

11.  The presence of a best friend buffers the effects of negative experiences. Adams, Ryan E.; Santo, Jonathan Bruce; Bukowski, William M. Developmental Psychology, Vol 47(6), Nov 2011, 1786-1791. doi:

12.  Ko HJ, Youn CH. Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition and sleep among the community-dwelling elderly. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2011 Jul;11(3):267-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2010.00680.x. Epub 2011 Jan 17. PubMed PMID: 21241447.

13.  Lindgren L, Rundgren S, Winsö O, Lehtipalo S, Wiklund U, Karlsson M, Stenlund H, Jacobsson C, Brulin C. Physiological responses to touch massage in healthy volunteers. Auton Neurosci. 2010 Dec 8;158(1-2):105-10. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2010.06.011. PubMed PMID: 20638912.

14.  Manocha R, Black D, Sarris J, Stough C. A randomized, controlled trial of meditation for work stress, anxiety and depressed mood in full-time workers. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:960583. doi: 10.1155/2011/960583. Epub 2011 Jun 7. PubMed PMID: 21716708; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3118731.



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