How to reset your stress: 6 strategies from Atlanta experts

When your cortisol rises, here are six self-soothing strategies from the experts to punch it back down in just a few minutes.


How to reduce stressTake a mineral bath.
“An Epsom salt bath is my favorite way to destress,” says Kristin Oja, a nurse practitioner and founder of the Westside’s STAT Wellness. Add one cup of Epsom salt to a hot tub, and soak for 20 minutes. The magnesium in Epsom salt is thought to relieve muscle pain and even tension headaches as your body absorbs it, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “Dim the lights or turn them off and just light a candle,” says Oja. Trouble finding 20 minutes? “Put it on your calendar just like you would any other meeting,” Oja says.

Grow aromatherapeutic herbs and flowers—then use them to make tea.
Studies have shown that a cup of tea can reduce cortisol levels by more than 50 percent in less than an hour. Meanwhile, the aromatherapeutic properties of some herbs impact the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Plus, just the ritual of making tea can be soothing. Try this tip from Brandi Shelton, founder of local tea company Just Add Honey.

▸ Start with peppermint. It’s easy to grow—even indoors in the winter by a sunny window.

▸ Boil 8 ounces of water. Remove from heat.

▸ Pick around 15 mint leaves. To get the oils flowing, crush them a bit in your hands first for an aromatherapeutic pick-me-up. Add to the pot (with holy basil sprigs and dried rose petals if you’re feeling fancy) and steep for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain leaves and add local honey (Shelton likes Honey Next Door).

Come spring, plant a pot of lavender outside in the sun and give that a try using the same method with the buds. Want to skip the plants and get right to the tea? Grab an ounce of the many looseleaf teas from Just Add Honey.

“It’s the oldest and most widely known trick,” says Jeffrey Jaeger, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, “but that’s probably because it’s one of the best.” When acutely stressed, you start breathing faster and shallower, creating a version of hyperventilation.

Visualize a square in front of you. Imagine your in-breath going up one of the sides, and as you move across the top of the square, hold it for a few seconds. Then, do the out-breath going down the other side, and then hold for a few seconds on bottom side of the square. “Some people like to pair a soothing word with the breath as well,” says Jaeger. “For example, you could say ‘calm’—either out loud or in your head—with the out-breath. It becomes a little bit of a mantra.”

Meditate with your coffee.
If you say you don’t have time to meditate, but never miss your morning coffee, Meryl Arnett of the podcast The Mindful Minute has something for you. Finding focus has long been shown to quiet thoughts and reduce stress.

▸ Before anyone else is awake, pour your coffee. Take a comfortable seat, holding the mug in both hands. Sit tall; roll your shoulders back.

▸ Breathe in deeply through the nose, then open your mouth and release a sigh. Let it go.

▸ Send a soft gaze toward your mug. Notice the color. The shape. The texture. Notice the warmth move up your forearm, until you can’t tell where the warmth starts or stops.

▸ Breathe in deeply, and notice the smell.

▸ Let your ears open up, and notice the sounds. Slowly bring your mug up, and take one sip. Pause for a moment, holding it in your mouth. As you swallow, follow the taste and warmth as far into the body as you can.

Let this morning ritual wake up your senses. Go into your day with mindful awareness, easy breath, and an open heart.

Oja has a few tips for simple poses that can relieve muscle tension and improve your mood.

1. Lie down on the floor facing a wall, and scoot your bottom all the way to the wall, with your legs straight up in the air against the wall. Breathe deeply.

2. Get on all fours and arch and curl your back in the “cat/cow” stretch, filling up your lungs as you arch, and exhaling as you curl.

3. While sitting or standing, lift your arms above your head, with your palms facing up. Stretch to make your body as long as possible and envision pushing away the stress.

Move your feet.
Nearly every expert we spoke with suggested taking a spin around the block, whether a heart-pumping jog or a mind-clearing stroll. “I prefer to meditate in motion,” says Oja. “That’s more relaxing for me than sitting still.” Noticing sights and sounds can help you remember there is a world beyond your head.

Quick bursts of intense exercise—even just two minutes—can help your body come back to baseline. Try jumping jacks, jumping rope, running in place for 30 seconds—anything to elevate your heart rate just a little bit. Your body knows how to recover from exercise, and it will have the effect of cooling down its elevated state of anxiety too.

Back to “How to Find Calm in a Year of Chaos”

This article appears in our November 2020 issue.