By Cristina Bagozzi
Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional and this is not medical advice. The content below reflects my personal experience addressing everyday stressors, not major life events or trauma. For medical guidance, please consult with a trained professional.
What inspired me to create this guide?
Life can be overwhelming. Demands from our jobs, family and even personal endeavors have a cumulative effect that can easily make us tired, irritable, and stressed.
While there is no shortage of advice on reclaiming a sense of balance, much of it is out of reach for the average person. If you're anything like me, you can't drop everything to attend a days-long meditation retreat or even find the time for a longer daily yoga practice.
To be clear, I don't want to discount the countless benefits of yoga (which I practice regularly, though not daily), but yoga practice often requires a dedicated time and space that is not accessible to most of us at a moment's notice.
That's why I created this guide: a compact and, most importantly, accessible list of practical techniques anyone can experiment with to unlock a sense of tranquility when you need it most, like after that long, contentious meeting at work. No retreat required.
What these techniques have in common:
- You can try them almost anywhere (at work, at home, out with friends — basically where we spend the majority our time — as long as they don't interfere with activities that require your undivided attention, like driving).
- They can help you achieve a sense of balance in just a few minutes, because in reality, that's all most of us have during the day.
- They all involve some degree of physical activity. Since the mind and body are connected, it is difficult to rebalance your state of mind without engaging your body to a certain extent.
- They are intentionally simple and physically accessible to most people. However, always consult with a professional if you are unsure.
- They are all techniques I discovered over the years while dealing with stressful situations and now regularly use them to find serenity in the moment. On that note, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but I felt it was more helpful to keep it edited to a few impactful methods and explain how they work, rather than create an overwhelmingly-long laundry list.
As you explore these ideas, keep an open mind and be patient with yourself. It's possible not all will work for everyone. Or, they may not work perfectly, or the first time you try them. And that's OK.
This is not about striving for perfection, and in that process, becoming even more stressed (which is easy to do with many wellness techniques). It's about allowing yourself a little time to experiment with simple ways to recalibrate your mood and get closer to tranquility and balance.
1. Practice 4-7-8 breathing
Like many breathwork techniques, the 4-7-8 breathing method works by activating the parasympathetic system, which helps relax your body and mind by counteracting the fight-or-flight response.
First, find a comfortably upright sitting position and exhale fully through the mouth. Then, repeat the following breath cycle at least four times, working up to eighth cycles over time, twice a day.
- Inhale slowly through the nose to the count of four.
- Hold your breath to the count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight.
While this technique can take a bit of patience to master, it also has the potential to become more powerful with practice and time. I find it incredibly effective at reducing stress and sometimes also use it to fall back asleep if I wake up during the night.
If you'd like to learn more about his method, check out these articles from Cleveland Clinic, CNN, and Healthline. Many mood-regulating breathing techniques, collectively known as "pranayama", have their roots in yogic practices developed in India over thousands of years.
2. Massage your head & neck
I often instinctively start massaging the tops of my shoulders, nape of my neck, temples and scalp when I need a bit of relaxation — especially while sitting at my desk. And I can literally feel the stress melt away.
This easy-to-follow summary from Health Guide explains the method very clearly: "A combination of strokes works well to relieve muscle tension. Put fingertip pressure on muscle knots. Knead across muscles, and try long, light, gliding strokes.
- Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck. Next, use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips. Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
- Now massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles. Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.
- Finally, close your eyes. Cup your hands loosely over your face and inhale and exhale easily for a short while."
3. Stretch your body top to bottom
Stretching is just as beneficial to our mind as it is to our bodies. As explained here, "stretching has been shown to increase serotonin levels — i.e., the hormone that helps stabilize our mood, reduce stress, and overall makes us feel good — which causes a decrease in depression and anxiety."
Since everyone holds tension in different areas of the body, the specific stretches most beneficial to each individual will vary. Personally, I find the following short sequence helpful in relieving stress and fatigue in just a few minutes.
- I start by standing tall with my feet wide apart and toes pointing forward.
- With a slow, deep inhale, I stretch my arms up over my head. Once I reach the top, I take a few slow, deep breaths and keep extending so I can really feel the sides of my body, back and arms expanding outwards.
- With the next exhale, I start to slowly bend forward, keeping my lower back straight, until I touch the ground with my fingers. This type of forward folding releases tension in the hamstrings and helps "stimulate the digestive, urogenital, nervous and endocrine systems" as explained here. I stay here for a few breaths and then slowly come back up.
Tip: If my chest is extra tight from sitting at a computer, I interlace my hands behind my back on the way down (you can also use a towel if your hands don't touch). Always be careful when stretching, especially if you have injuries.
4. Take a walk
This one may seem obvious, but in a way, that's the point. In a forest full of relaxation techniques, it's easy to lose sight of one of the most basic, simple and well studied forms of relaxation — walking.
Our bodies are hardwired for walking and it is one of the distinct traits that makes us human. Taking even a short walk has been clinically proven to lower stress and improve mood, as shown here.
For me, walking came naturally when I lived in cities — from my childhood town of Arad to my seven years in New York City, where I walked two miles each day just to get to and from the subway.
Now that I live in a suburb and work from home, I build in walking breaks throughout the day. If I find myself getting fatigued, stressed or even bored (which is rare, but does happen), a five minute walk around the block positively recharges me.
If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of walking and find inspiration for how to incorporate it into your daily rituals, I enjoyed Annabel Street's book "52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time."
5. Activate your sense of smell
With a direct link to areas of the brain that control emotion, our sense of smell has the power to instantly impact how we feel. In fact, I created Emmotiv to celebrate this beautiful link and invite people to experience the power of scent to elevate their mood.
Emmotiv's proprietary fragrances fuse the mood-boosting benefits of aromatherapy with the artistry of perfume to amplify emotions we crave — from joy and love, to calm and comfort — through an expressive, indulgent olfactive experience.
When it comes to finding a sense of serenity, my two favorite fragrances to use are Calm Soul and Cozy Reverie. They can be used on their own or "layered" with the other activities above to amplify their effect.
Emmotiv Calm Soul Eau de Parfum
Wear to feel grounded and restored.
Emmotiv Calm Soul Eau de Parfum is designed to evoke the grounding feeling of a restorative retreat in nature. Woody, warm and aromatic with a touch of smoky spice, it balances calming notes like palo santo, clary sage, frankincense and lavender with energizing notes like ginger and bergamot.
Emmotiv Cozy Reverie Eau de Parfum
Wear when you crave indulgent comfort.
Emmotiv Cozy Reverie Eau de Parfum is designed to evoke the feeling of sweet, indulgent comfort. Creamy, deliciously cozy and ethereal, it wraps mildly sedative florals like muguet (lily-of-the-valley) and ylang-ylang in comforting vanilla, sensual musks and a touch of uplifting lemon.
To maximize their therapeutic benefit, spray fragrances on pulse points, like the inside of your wrists or behind your ear lobes. Because these areas emit more heat, they enhance the diffusion of the fragrance. You can even apply a different fragrance to each wrist and smell them both throughout the day.
Tip: You can improve the longevity of perfume by applying it to moisturized skin, which helps keep more of the fragrance oil on top of the skin for you to smell and enjoy throughout the day. Just remember to always use a non-scented moisturizer in order to protect the olfactive signature of the fragrance.
All Emmotiv fragrances are vegan, cruelty-free and crafted with clean ingredients we disclose on our website. You can learn more about our Eaux de Parfum and mood-elevating notes on our website at emmotiv.com.
About the author
Cristina Bagozzi is the founder and owner of EMMOTIV, a brand dedicated to celebrating the beauty of human emotion through the art of scent. Learn more at emmotiv.com. You can also follow @emmotiv on Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and LinkedIn and @emmotivbeauty on Facebook.