As an EMT (emergency medical technician) the first time I lost a patient, it took me the whole rest of the shift (8 hours) to get back to feeling normal.
In the world of emergency medicine, that’s too long. In any world, that’s too long.
I knew I needed to figure out a way to de-stress faster. When I’m stressed, even a little bit, my ability to focus suffers. There’s a difference between the kind of focus that gets work done and the kind of focus that results in doing my best work.
In the ambulance, to really crush it, I needed to be fully present. Patients don’t trust you unless they feel the compassion you have for them. If you’re emotionally distant, patient care suffers.
The same is true at the office. Working with speed and efficiency is one thing, but working with passion and compassion can be a game changer for your career. People and organizations can’t say no to good energy. Want to be invaluable? Be a rock of positivity and good vibes.
Life doesn’t always play along with the game plan though. It took me a few months, but I was eventually able to work out a way for how to relieve stress fast and bounce back from rough calls quickly.
I did it by combining the 3 things that have the most significant impact on my emotions: Music, smell, and exercise. This is a winning combo!
Here's how to relieve stress in less than 5 minutes, using the same approach, so you can bounce back to your calmer and more productive self…
1. Listen the Stress Away
Music is powerful. Listening to it is one way to cover a lot of emotional ground fast.
In the ambulance, I needed to go from stressed to upbeat in the time it took to drop off a patient and clear for the next call.
Considering that most of that time was spent filling out my report, it didn’t leave much opportunity to be by myself. Most of the time, though, I could get away long enough to listen to one song.
Your first step in creating your de-stress formula is to create a playlist of songs that you have a strong positive connection to.
Pick songs that remind you of being the happiest you’ve ever felt.
The idea is that the music will help transport you back to that time, and trigger the happy brain chemistry that’s associated with it.
When you’re tense, your body produces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are great for effectively escaping a bear attack, but not so good for the more refined skills of communicating in the workplace. Listening to music that anchors you to a happier time can reduce stress hormone production and get you back to being on top of your game.
2. Smell the Stress Away
What music can do in the span of a song, your sense of smell can do almost instantly.
Your olfactory senses (nose senses) have a direct line of communication to the amygdala (the part of your brain that’s at the center of emotions and memory).
Researchers have determined that the sense of smell has a significant impact on human behavior, especially as it relates to interpersonal relationships.
What this means is that you can leverage your sense of smell to help center yourself in moments of high stress.
All it takes is choosing the right scent. Odor-cued memories aren't just scenes from the past; they transport you emotionally back to that time.
The right smell can teleport your brain back to a better moment, and de-stress you in the process.
For me, it’s the smell of pine trees. Some of my happiest memories are of taking family trips to my grandparent’s mountain cabin in Montana. I was in complete bliss there, and the whole time the scent of pine trees bombarded my nose.
For about a month I had been listening to a song to re-center myself after calls, but the results were inconsistent. Then one day I caught a whiff of pine, and ‘BOOM!,’ the stress was gone.
From then on I carried fresh pine needles in my pocket. My de-stress formula was almost complete, and the ambulance never smelt better!
3. Burn the Stress Away
The reciprocal effects of exercise on stress are well-documented.
A lot of different mechanisms make this happen, but the gist of it is that exercise lowers stress hormones and raises endorphins.
Physical activity also encourages the expression of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) a protein that plays a critical role in neurogenesis (the creation of new synaptic connections in the brain). In short, BDNF primes your brain for focus and optimal memory.
Repetitive, rhythmic movement also seems to have a calming effect.
Think of it as the adult version of being rocked in the cradle.
I knew I had my formula figured out when I added lunges and squats to my five-minute routine. Depending on how intense the call had been, I had about an 80% chance of being able to re-center myself back to baseline over the course of the 5-minute song (not perfect, but pretty darn consistent).
The key is to pick the songs and smells that have the strongest pull for you, so rifle through your memory bank and find something positive.
The songs and smells that worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. I had some of my happiest times when the scent of pine was thick in the air. Maybe you loved the smell of the hand soap at your Grandma’s house.
Nobody else has your memories. Choose wisely, and your brain will lay off the stress hormones so you can get back to doing your best work.