Two techniques for reducing stress


Former Editor, Harvard Health

It happens to everyone from time to time: a thorny issue sprouts up, a worry takes root. Soon those roots dig in so deeply and spread so wide that they leave little room for anything else to grow. Worrying, searching for a solution, and forecasting the future move from preoccupation to full-time work.

When that starts to happen, it’s critical to call a timeout, explain stress experts Herbert Benson, MD, and Aggie Casey, the medical editors of Harvard Medical School’s Stress Management Special Health Report. Certain hormones fuel the body’s stress response (also dubbed “fight-or-flight”), speeding breathing and heartbeat, directing extra blood flow to the brain and muscles, perking up the immune system, and triggering other changes that prepare your body to respond to a perceived threat. At times, the stress response is appropriate and necessary, helping us rise to meet physical and emotional challenges. But stress hormones that are triggered too often or stuck in overdrive can fuel worrisome health problems—from headaches and heartburn to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Relaxation techniques can counteract this. Learning and practicing the relaxation response or other similar stress-reduction techniques for 10–20 minutes a day can protect your health, improve your mood, and boost your overall well-being.

When you find yourself stuck on a particular worry, there are many quick and easy techniques that can help you break the cycle of stress. Here are two that I tried recently and found helpful:

Schedule your worries

When your mind is racing, you feel overwhelmed, and you can’t seem to focus, call a time-out for yourself. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write down everything that you’re worried about. But when the buzzer sounds, put your worries away and allow yourself to focus on something else. If you are going through a tumultuous or difficult time—perhaps you are in the midst of a divorce or you are facing a financial setback—and worry is persistent, try setting aside a specific time each day to record your worries. Simply having this time each day can help you contain your worries. You know you’ll have time to tend to them without having them take over your day.

Make a worry box

Find any box, decorate it however you like, and keep it in a handy place. (I found that this was a great activity to do with my young children, since they loved helping to decorate the box.) Jot down each worry as it crops up on a piece of paper and drop it into the box.

Once your worry is deposited in the box, try to turn your attention to other matters. The worry box essentially allows you to mentally let go of your worries.

Later on, you can throw out the notes without looking at them again. I decided to look through mine at the end of the month, and while a few of those worries were still bearing down on me, most were unfounded. It was a good lesson that worrying is often fruitless, as a favorite quote of mine from Leo Buscaglia underscores:

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”


  1. mandy

    Stress ! a really big disease now a days. And we are really thankful to you for providing this informative blog….thanks

  2. laura hennings

    The worry box is a good idea.
    At the end of each month, I am suprised to see how petty most of my worries are.
    The worries always seem worst at the time !
    Laura Hennings
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  3. thestats

    wow that is a very simple but interesting way to deal with worry- giving a color box -makes the brain visulize your worries going into the box- away from you, its a very nicely done article,Thanks.
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  4. Jael

    Many people also use meditation to improve their health conditions. Since meditation can aid in relaxation, it can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Meditating is a good way to forgo the tension of a bad day. It keeps the mind healthy, and a healthy mind helps lead to a healthier body. Some people even use meditation as their primary resource for medical care, using the power of their minds instead of the power of medicine.

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  5. Seeker

    This is a good read. Also, if you don’t mind, then it most certainly doesn’t matter.:)

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  6. William

    Great post!
    I have studied a lot of anxiety and stress relief techniques, but I have never found something like the two you mention (schedule and worry box).
    Very creative!

    People really need help like this, but also need to know that most of these kind of techniques require practice and practice to really get the results, but patience will certainly provide results.

    Keep up the good work.



  7. parmila

    very good and great idea, worry box, true this is just like a hope.

    i think word worry’s is created from past and present bcse this is the which gives us depression, so we hve to forget this and slowly try to move on future which will slowly relax the depressed brain.

    yes we also need a family support to anybody suffering on this which is very important,time,food,money,commitment and hope makes stress more manageable.

    i have seen depressed students and families. some very dangerous cases who needs medication before it damages more brain cells.


  8. Armando Ribeiro das Neves Neto

    Great idea! I use this feature with some patients suffering from chronic stress and anxiety and have seen impressive results. Thanks for the tip. Armando Ribeiro das Neves Neto. Sao Paulo – Brazil.

  9. MP Sidhu

    Hi Annmari:Let me congratulate you on your language prificiency.Bravo!

    The two methods discussed in your article to overcome stress are new and I think, if praticed religiously would benefit the needy.But there is a question: What about a person whose stress hormones get triggered at the drop of a hat(figurativly speaking)? How can he make a start with the techniques suggested by you. He/she is aware of the consequences but is unable to control the racing heart beat.Since facing life’s challenges has become a part of modern living,how can such a person be helped?

  10. Francoise Bonhoure

    The worry box is a great idea!
    I’d like to add that the use of body movements to rid the body of tension that stress and worry house on the body is also a great help.
    Please allow me to post this link:
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  11. Valentin Fernandez-Tubau

    I like the idea of “scheduling your worries” and “making a worry box”. I am a psychologist and I can see the practical use of both if we take care to separete ilogic worries from real urgent worries. Stress usually impairs the capacity to distinguish between both of them, and our remedy should. Great tips, though.

  12. Rob

    i meant to say it certainly offers improvements….sorry 🙂

  13. Rob

    great article, annmarie. stress relief is important and certainly improvements in both physical, emotional, and mental health 🙂 contact me on gmail to discuss??

  14. Jennifer

    Thank you for posting this article. I’ve employed many natural stress relief techniques over the years but the worry schedule and worry box are new to me. Great suggestions because they help you effectively deal with your source of stress while letting them go and living.
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