15 Proven Ways To De-stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

Find quick relief from stress with these tips that are backed by science.
Stress relief and anxiety relief methods and tips
Image Source: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

It can be hard to get things done when you're overwhelmed by stress. Instead of trying to power through it, take a break and try these quick stress-relieving activities:

1.  Light a scented candle

Research has shown that aromatherapy really does reduce stress. In this study, stress levels and stress responses were significantly lowered by using aromatherapy. Try lighting a candle scented with one of these relaxing scents:

  • Lavender: One of the most commonly known calming scents, lavender was shown to reduce the stress levels of nurses in a research study published in the "International Journal of Nursing Practice."
  • Rosemary: One study showed that smelling rosemary reduced the heart rate of participants, which is an indicator of short term stress. Another study showed reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the saliva of participants who smelled rosemary.
  • Ylang ylang: This herb is widely used in traditional medicine and research showed a reduction in stress levels after participants sniffed ylang ylang oil.
  • Bergamot: The oil of the bergamot plant has been the subject of several studies that showed smelling bergamot reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. 
  • Rose: This popular floral scent is showing promising results as research into aromatherapy grows. A study by Tapanee Hongratanaworakit found participants had lower blood pressure and reported feeling calmer. 

You may also find success with other scents that you personally find calming, such as ocean breeze, chamomile, or jasmine. 

2. Chew gum

A study done at the Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology at Cardiff University showed that chewing gum reduced stress (at work and outside of work), fatigue, and anxiety. This could be because chewing involves tensing and relaxing the jaw muscles, which is similar to Abbreviated Progressive Relaxation Training (APRT), and APRT has been proven to reduce cortisol levels, heart rate, and reported stress levels.

3. Practice Abbreviated Progressive Relaxation Training (APRT)

We already know that APRT helps reduce stress, both physiologically (reduced cortisol levels and heart rate) and psychologically (reduced reported stress levels) so setting aside a few minutes to practice this throughout your whole body can be very beneficial. A full body Abbreviated Progressive Relaxation Training routine would be as follows:

  • Curl the toes on your left foot. Hold each of these steps for 5 seconds and then release.
  • Tighten your calf muscle by pointing your toes towards you. 
  • Squeeze your thigh muscles. Repeat these three steps for the right leg. 
  • Clench your left fist. 
  • Flex your bicep while making a fist. Repeat these two steps for your right arm.
  • Clench your buttocks.
  • Suck in your stomach.
  • Tense your chest muscles by taking a deep breath.
  • Raise your shoulders to your ears.
  • Open your mouth wide. 
  • Clench your eyelids very tight.
  • Raise your eyebrows as high as possible. 

By tensing and relaxing the various muscle groups in your body, you can increase awareness of your body and release all the tension that has built up in your body.

4. Watch a funny video

One study done at Western Kentucky University showed that laughing reduced the self-reported levels of stress in participants. Another older study showed that people who laughed more did not show an increase in negative emotions when stressful life events increased. A quick break to watch that hilarious YouTube video your friend sent you will help you relieve some of that stress and tension. 

5 Do a quick yoga routine

Many studies have been done on the effects of yoga, and they have shown that yoga can reduce stress and anxiety. By encouraging relaxation, deep breathing, and a focus on the present, yoga can counteract the "fight or flight" response that causes anxiety and stress. There are a ton of 15-minute yoga routines you can follow on YouTube, but here is one specifically designed for stress:

6. Try a walking meditation

Exercise is known to reduce the body's levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, as well as boost endorphins which can elevate mood. By focusing the mind away from the quick-moving thoughts that may be causing stress, meditation can reduce stress levels and bring about a sense of calm and balance. You can do both of these stress-relieving activities at once by doing a walking meditation. Try this guided meditation to get you started:

7. Take a coloring break

Adult coloring books have gotten increasingly popular as people report feeling relief from stress while coloring. Research showed that coloring complex patterns, like mandalas, can induce a meditative state that reduced anxiety levels. There are many adult coloring books with beautiful designs and patterns to color in with your favorite colored pencils. 

8. Listen to calming music

In a study published in the "Journal of Music Therapy," calming music was shown to prevent the rise in subjective anxiety levels, heart rate, and blood pressure when participants were exposed to a stressful situation. There are many soothing music playlists to choose from, or you can create your own filled with some of your favorite relaxing songs. You can put the music on in the background or take a minute to actively listen to a song or two with your eyes closed for a more relaxing experience. 

9. Give yourself a hand massage

A study done in Japan showed that hand massage not only induced a state of relaxation but also reduced anxiety levels. Here is an easy to follow tutorial on self hand massage:

10. Have a cup of tea

Take the time to step away from whatever you're stressing about and indulge in the calming ritual of making tea. Waiting for the water to boil and the tea to steep gives you a moment to breathe. Many herbal teas like chamomile and peppermint have traditionally been used for relieving anxiety and stress, and low-caffeine green tea has been shown to reduce stress levels thanks to its theanine content. 

11. Pet your dog or cat 

In one study done by researchers at Washington State University, participants exhibited lower cortisol levels after just 10 minutes spent petting animals. If you have an animal at home, spend some time giving them some love! Both you and your furry friend will appreciate the quality time.

12. Try acupressure 

Acupressure can be thought of as "acupuncture without needles." It is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that seeks to "unblock" the flow of life energy and restore wellbeing. Acupressure is also effective at relaxing the muscles and can be performed alone. It has also been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety levels. Though there are many acupressure points all over the body, the video below will help you locate three that can be beneficial for stress-relief:

13. Practice gratitude

Take some time to reflect on things you are grateful for. UCLA's Mindfulness Awareness Research Center has found that gratitude actually changes the structure of our brains, making us happier and more peaceful. Making this a habit with a weekly gratitude journal is even more effective. Reflecting on even the little things that you're grateful for, like your favorite coffee mug, can make a huge difference in your mood and resilience to stress. 

14. Do a guided imagery session

Guided imagery is a way to focus your thoughts and imagination on calm, peaceful images to create a mental "happy place." Research published in "Frontiers in Psychology" showed that guided imagery is effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, with nature-based guided imagery being the most effective. This 10-minute video will guide you through imagining a peaceful forest walk:

15. Eat some dark chocolate

"Chocolate therapy" is actually backed by science now! In a study done in Switzerland, researchers found that eating a bar of dark chocolate reduced participants levels of cortisol and catecholamines, which are hormones released when we are stressed. So go ahead and indulge in that craving, because it really will make you feel better. 

For an extra-relaxing break, try these activities in various combinations, like journaling for gratitude while listening to peaceful music or giving yourself a hand massage with a scented candle burning. If you can, make these relaxation breaks a part of your daily routine as taking time to de-stress every day can lower your overall stress levels and build mental resilience to stress. 


Stevie is a writer who perpetually has a coffee in her hand and a cat on her lap. Her other hobbies include reading and playing video games.

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