There are many stressors we face in life — from relationship problems and job issues to the uncertain state of the world. Whether it’s just a little stress or a big ball of panic in the pit of your stomach, learning how to calm down is essential for all of us. The problem is that learning how to calm down isn’t always easy, especially when you are in a moment of panic or stress.
Calming Down May Seem Impossible, But It’s Not
When you feel afraid that you will never be able to calm down remind yourself that stress, panic and anxiety are bodily reactions. When you are faced with a trigger — such as an upsetting text from a friend, or the approach of an event that you’re dreading — your body is flooded with “fight-or-flight” hormones.
Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol make us feel as though we are being chased by a lion, whether or not something of that nature is actually happening – and usually it is not. But your body doesn’t know the difference. You could be receiving an email from your boss that triggers a stress reaction or, alternatively, be physically running away from a robber — your body doesn’t know the difference and may react the same way.
Once the fight-or-flight reaction is activated, it can be difficult to stop experiencing feelings of stress or panic, or even to talk yourself out of them. However, there are ways to calm down your nervous system — techniques you can use to bring your body and mind back to a more balanced state.
5 Ways to Calm Down in the Moment
Probably the biggest challenge is how to calm down when you are in a moment of anxiety or panic. Again, it’s important to remember that you are experiencing both an emotional reaction as a well as a physical one. So you want to utilize techniques that address both so that you can bring your body and mind back into a place of homeostasis, i.e., calm.
Below are five methods that may get you through moments of anxiety and panic:
1. Reframe Your Situation or Relabel What’s Happening
When you are feeling stressed or panicked, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of negative thinking. You may think to yourself, “I am stressed over nothing,” or “Why is this happening to me?” Or you may think even more extreme things like, “I’m a terrible person who can’t handle their emotions.” Your stress may lead you to believe in scary ideas — that you are going to lose your job, that your relationship is going to crumble, or that your life or livelihood is on the line.
Reframing the situation can be so helpful. In response to negative thoughts say something like, “That’s not true; that’s just the anxiety talking.” Try to treat yourself as you would treat a loved one who is feeling anxiety — with compassion, rather than condemnation.
This kind of relabelling and positive self-talk doesn’t always seem like it’s doing much, but if you continue with it, and combine it with other techniques, it can do a good job of calming you down.
2. Get Outside & Get Moving
One of the best ways to counteract those stress hormones flooding your body is to exercise. Going out for a walk or a run can be one of the best ways to calm down. Getting out of the house/workplace is a good way to change the scene — the fresh air is soothing and flooding your body with endorphins is a great antidote to all the stress hormones.
Music is another great way to distract yourself from your anxious thoughts. It gets your body moving and can elicit feelings of excitement and light heartedness. Singing along to music may also be a release and a good way to calm down and ease tension.
How can I calm down or sit still when my thoughts are racing? Try mindfulness and grounding exercises — if you give them a chance — can be really helpful and are a great way to calm down. Just the act of sitting still and closing your eyes helps to remove some of the stimuli of the outside world, which can help calm down your stress response. Look for guided meditations on the web or on the EAP Assist website that you find helpful.
4. Ground yourself Physically
Techniques which bring you back into your body, can be incredibly grounding when it comes to calming down. Some techniques can involve special objects that you touch when you are feeling anxious, such as a rock or a bracelet.
One grounding techniques is called “trace the hand technique,” which combines proprioceptive input with breathing. Here’s how you do it:
- Starting with your thumb, use your opposite hand to trace your finger from the bottom to the top.
- Inhale as you move up the finger; when you get to the top of the finger, exhale.
- Repeat this as you go from finger to finger.
- Switch hands if you need more; repeat as many times as needed.
5. Just Breathe
Everyone says “just breathe” when they hear that someone is anxious. This can actually be very frustrating for someone who is trying to figure out how to calm down. It can feel dismissive, patronizing and you might feel misunderstood. You might think, “Well, I’m breathing right now — how’s that going to help?”
Engaging in deep breathing techniques, especially ones that are deliberate and methodical, can help you immensely. Like exercising and grounding techniques, deep breathing can change the hormonal balance in your body and quell your stress response.
One breathing technique is simply breathing in and then breathing out, emphasizing the exhale and lengthening it. This is a great way to “trick” your body into calming down. If possible you may like to lie down on you back, and place my hands on your torso, feeling your chest rise and fall, resulting in slowing down your breath, and coming into a state of calm.