Quick Fixes for Stress and Anxiety That Actually Work (Kind Of)

Brad Stulberg
4 min readJan 18, 2023

Whether it’s the “physiological sigh” popularized by podcaster Andrew Huberman or the New York Times advising people to “plunge your face into a bowl with ice water for 15 to 30 seconds,” quick and concrete tactics for managing stress and anxiety are all over the internet. And the truth is, they work.

Plenty of research shows that modulating your breathing and extreme cold water on your face can help reset your nervous system.

But, then again, as performance coach Steve Magness recently pointed out on Twitter, lots of things work:

It’s hard to go shopping every day, and few would suggest that doing so promotes a highly fulfilled life. It’s also hard (and unrealistic) to physiologically sigh ninety times a day or repeatedly dunk your head in an ice bucket. At best, these are short-term interventions for extremely high-stress situations. At worst, they get in the way of what we’re really after: calm, equanimity, and the ability to perform well under distress.

Decades of research shows that there are two primary ways to manage stress and anxiety, which tend to be most effective when undertaken together:

  1. Learn to sit with and accept the emotions.
  2. Take action to change the situation that is giving rise to the stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, guess what is bound to make anxiety and stress (along with someone’s ability to deal with them) worse over the long haul: labeling these emotions as unequivocally bad and always trying to make them go away. This, of course, is precisely what we are doing with quick-fix strategies like those mentioned in the opening of this piece.

“Ahh! Stress! Anxiety!! This is BAD! I better breathe weird or dunk my head out of it!!”

The New York Times dunking your head into an ice-bucket example was in an article about how to deal with election night nerves. It may feel good for a few minutes, but it does nothing to fundamentally change the situation. That would require taking action to protect democracy, learning to sit with…

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Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness