Let’s get real. There will be times in your life when you’re going to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. Whether it be with work, school, or you just have a lot going on, we all feel this way at some point.
And rather than pushing them aside or ignoring them, it’s essential to know a few strategies that can help you calm down.
Here are a few easy, actionable tips you can try the next time you need to calm down.
- Take a deep breath and step away. When you notice that you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths. If done correctly, it’s one of the fastest ways to activate your body’s relaxation response. And if the trigger is a person, place, or situation, try to take a step back from it if possible. If you need a few ideas for breathing exercises, the One Minute Pause app offer quick and easy “SOS” exercises that you can do anywhere, at any time.
- Accept the anxious feelings. Fighting off and pushing away stress and anxiety doesn’t do much to ease them. Remind yourself that anxiety is a normal human experience, and allow yourself to feel the way you do. It may come as a surprise, but you’ll have more power over those feelings when you practice acceptance. My spiritual director calls this be-friending your emotions.
- Be in the moment. If your thoughts are focused on what the future holds for you, whether it’s in a few minutes or years down the line, it may make you more susceptible to anxiety and stress. Pause for a moment and pay attention to what’s going on right here, right now. It can be helpful to incorporate your five senses in doing this. Look at a few things you can see around you, things you can smell, and sounds you can hear. All of your senses bring you back to the present and allow you to free yourself of the downward spiral your worries and negative thoughts can take you.
- Pause and breathe. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes. Imagine one of your favorite places or memories. Visualize your body relaxed, release any tension, and imagine yourself in that place or time. The trick is, your body doesn’t know the difference between what’s happening and what’s part of your imagination. By creating a mental image of what it looks and feels like to stay calm, you can refer back to it whenever you’re anxious.
- Listen to music. Grab your headphones and tune into your favorite playlist. Listening to music has been shown to produce a very relaxing effect on the body and mind. Listen to my personal Sabbath Instrumental playlist, or #FaithOverFear, or this #WorshipOverWorry, or #StudyOverScroll. Better yet, listen to Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony 7 or Symphony 9.
- Write it down. Get all of your thoughts and emotions down on paper, or start a note on your phone. Forget about the grammar and structure! Having a written stream of consciousness allows you to express what’s on your mind freely. And more importantly, getting it out of your head will be a huge relief.
- Reframe your situation. Sometimes, we intensify our stress by the way we perceive them. If you shift your perspective or “reframe” your situation, you may be surprised to see how relieved you feel. Think about how a friend would view your situation or approach it from a beginner’s mind perspective. When you learn how you can change the way you look at things, you’ll notice the difference in the way you feel.
- Relax your muscles. When we’re tense, there’s a good chance your body is tense. Often, you can notice it in your shoulders, or your jaw is clenched. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique where you tense and gradually release your muscles one by one, leaving your body feeling more relaxed afterward. Anyone can practice PMR, and over time, fully release all the tension your body is storing in a matter of seconds.
- Chew gum. Have any gum nearby? New research shows that chewing gum may help reduce stress by nearly 17%. So if you haven’t tried chewing gum under stressful circumstances, keep a stash of your favorite kind for next time and see if it helps. But check with your dentist first. It may not be good for your teeth 😊
- Find and call your safe person. Get together with someone you feel safe with. Ask him or her if he or she has 20 minutes to give you and hold a safe space for you.