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Last Updated on September 14, 2022

How to Calm Down When Stressed or Anxious

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How to Calm Down When Stressed or Anxious

Overwhelmed with work, family responsibilities, financial challenges and health issues are common culprits that catalyze stress and anxiety symptoms that show up differently in each of us.

While many of us are becoming much better at identifying what can trigger us to feel these, we’re not always that great at recognizing our individual thresholds; we don’t know exactly how to calm down when mental and emotional storms erupt.

We can almost see you eye-rolling upon hearing commonly recommended stress antidotes such as taking a bath, lighting candles or going for a walk. Let’s face it. These aren’t practical things you can do when you’re on a red-eye flight at 5:30 am to run a full day of training interstate and then fly back the same evening, not to mention juggling a young family.

You want to know your triggers, predict their impact, and have your own suite of tools up your sleeve to calm down that impact for the long term.

Doing a little groundwork to gain a strong self-awareness of your likely reactions puts you smack dab in the pilot seat to develop a robust mental and emotional toolkit that will work wonders for you.

A few simple but well-practiced techniques may be all you need to simmer down the cyclonic intensity of emotions and disparaging thoughts pecking away at your self-esteem and confidence. However, you must do this self-reflective groundwork first to gain maximum impact for long term effect.

How to Calm Down When You Feel Stressed or Anxious

Here is how to calm down when stressed or anxious.

1. Strengthen Familiarity With What Triggers You

When you have arguments with your loved one, do you stop and see if there are certain things you fight about? Are there certain behaviors they display that drive you bananas?

Take your focus off them and ask yourself: “What is my usual response?”

Perhaps you feel the anger welling up inside your chest, and you then spurt out that you’ve told them ten times before not to leave their underwear lying across the bedroom floor.

Think a little deeper. Ask yourself what values, standards and expectations you have that are not being met here. You’ll likely be attached to certain ways you believe things should play out. Are there assumptions and expectations about how you believe people should conduct themselves and principles about how you feel you should be treated?

Having a strong attachment to these for yourself is one thing. Expecting others to have the same attachment can make the hot water start simmering.

People often behave in ways inconsistent with our belief systems, and events unfold in discord with what we expect and are prepared for that we feel the most stress and anxiety.

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Make a list of the common circumstances in different areas of your life that cause you to become anxious and stressed. Against each of these, describe your stress response:

What happens? What do you feel?

Now think about the values, principles and expectations attached to these. You’ll see you have a few options:

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  • Change my values and expectations
  • Try to change other’s values and expectations
  • Recognize and be in allowance of others having different values, standards and expectations

Reviewing how you react when you’re stressed and anxious, and identifying which of these three options above will best serve you, can greatly increase your ability to feel and be in control of calming your reaction.

You move closer to being able to choose how you want to respond as opposed to feeling helpless, and the world is spiraling out of control.

2. Have Coping Statements on Hand

When you have a washing machine of chaotic thoughts churning in your mind, trying to implant thoughts that are the complete opposite of what you’re thinking and feeling can be pretty hard.

Not being able to do it can also add another layer of us feeling disappointment in ourselves. We feel we’re failing.

Having coping statements that you can literally latch on to help you calm down in those stressful and anxious moments can be particularly helpful.

Look at creating palm cards and have three to five of these you can have in your pocket or your purse. Here are 6 examples:

  • Even though I am feeling this right now, I am going to be alright
  • What I am feeling right now is uncomfortable. I won’t feel this way forever. Soon the intensity of what I am feeling will pass
  • I’ve survived these feelings before. I can do it again
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences, but right now, I am actually safe
  • It’s ok for me to feel this way. My body and brain are trying to protect me, but I am actually safe right now
  • Ah, here you are again, anxiety. Thanks for showing up to protect me, but I don’t need you right now

Choose words and dialogue that feel true and accurate for you. Read the statements out to yourself and test how fitting they are for you. What feels more assuring, calming and right for you?

Make these statements your own. These statements aim to de-escalate the intensity of what you feel when you’re anxious and stressed.

Remember, you want to refrain from having blunt statements which feel or sound like they’re self-reprimanding because they won’t be pacifying in a positive way.

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If you are unsure how to come up with statements that fit you, work with a psychologist or licensed therapist to give you a strong start.

3. Identify and Develop Physical Anchors

You have within you the resources to provide some of the most effective ways to calm yourself down in heightened moments you feel stressed and anxious. Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Peter Levine, an expert in treating stress and trauma, teaches us how techniques that do this, such as Somatic Experiencing®[1] can significantly help us calm down.

By learning to be fully present and applying touch to certain areas of your body (e.g., forehead and heart space), you increase your capacity to self-regulate. You also learn how to attend to and release your unique symptoms that your body has been containing in a way you have not been able to before.

Here’s one technique example:

  1. Get in a comfortable position
  2. Have your eyes open or closed, whatever feels most comfortable for you
  3. Now place one hand on your forehead, palm side flat against the skin
  4. Place the other hand, palm down across your heart space above your sternum… the flat of your chest area.
  5. Gently turn your attention to what you feel physically in the area between your two hands. Observe and take notice of what you physically feel. Is your chest pounding? How strong are its beat and rhythm? Do you notice any other sensations anywhere else between your two hands?
  6. Don’t try to push or resist what you’re feeling. Try to just sit with it and remain this way with your hands in place until you feel a physical shift. It might take a little longer, so try to be patient

You might feel a change in energy flow, temperature change, or different, less intense sensations. Keep your hands in place until you feel some kind of shift, even if gradual.

It might take 5 to 10 minutes, but riding this wave will help you process your body’s discomfort. It will greatly help to release it, so you gradually become calmer.

Purely cognitive exercises can be tough at the outset. Learning somatic experience techniques is particularly helpful because you’re engaging in exercises where you physically can feel the difference.

Feeling the changes helps you increase the confidence you can control and reduce the discomfort you’re feeling. You’ll be motivated to keep practicing and improving this skill you can take anywhere, anytime.

4. Move and Get Physical

If you’re not one to exercise, you’re robbing yourself of some very easy ways to help you calm down and reduce stress and anxiety. Many neurochemical changes occur when you exercise and engage in regular physical activity.

At certain levels of physical exertion, your brain’s pituitary gland releases neurotransmitter endorphins. When they bind with certain opiate receptors in your brain, signals are transmuted throughout your nervous system to reduce feelings of pain and trigger feelings of euphoria. You might have heard the term ‘runner’s high.’

For the last 20 years, University of Missouri-Columbia’s Professor Richard Cox has conducted research showing that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective at reducing anxiety and stress levels than other forms of aerobic exercise.[2]

However, if you would rather slay dragons than turn up an F45 class, you must still find something that will physically shift you and alter your current mental and emotional state of mind, even just a fraction to start with. It’s 100% ok if this is not your cup of tea.

So, in a day full of back of back-to-back meetings, what can you do?

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If you’re sitting, stand. Change your posture and open your body up. Have a suite of discrete stretches you can do regularly as you deepen and engage in diaphragmatic breathing.

If you’re looking down at your desk at work and feeling increasingly stressed, look up and change what you’re looking at. Give yourself more than a few moments to decompress.

The main thing is to change your disposition from the one you’re in when experiencing anxiety and stress symptoms. You’re shaking it up to calm it down.

5. Transform Your Unhelpful Inner Dialogue and Its Energy

Learning cognitive restructuring techniques can truly work wonders in helping you recognize and re-frame unhelpful dialogue and negative critical thinking patterns. This involves a little preparation and being transparent about what exaggerated perspectives you might ascribe to and what’s happening when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

When you open your email inbox and see a flood of requests that require more time and energy than you have for that day, dread starts to settle in, and the following comes to mind: “This is impossible. How can they expect me to be able to do all this? It’s completely unreasonable!”

Instantly, many other thoughts that reinforce this line of thinking, as well as the emotional energy of your first conscious thought, start unraveling. A 4-step process you can engage in calming the eruption is:

  1. Catch and notice that first thought you had. What was it? What did you think and/or say to yourself?
  2. Recognize what you’re feeling and be in allowance of the initial intensity of whatever those emotions are.
  3. Breathe deliberately, a little more deeply and slowly for a few seconds
  4. State to yourself: “Right now (in this moment), I’m feeling overwhelmed by this; however, maybe I can look at what I can make good progress and headway with as a start from here.”

Notice the language in step 4 is tentative, supportive, soft and not resistant nor defiant of what your original thought was. You accept your original thought but gradually become stronger at pivoting it.[3] You’re expanding your growth mindset language.

It’s worth working with a coach or trained therapist to learn how to tailor re-framing statements that can help you calm down.

6. Try the 333 Rule for Anxiety

The 333 Rule[4] is a technique many use for coping with their anxiety. With this technique, you can ground yourself and calm down when you feel extremely anxious or overwhelmed.

To use the 333 rule, name three things you see, identify three sounds you hear, and move or touch three things. It is a simple way to handle anxiety and calm ourselves down, no matter where we are.

How to Calm Yourself Down Fast

Don’t have time to run through all the techniques above to calm yourself during a stressful situation? Remember these quick tips for handling strong emotion in the present moment.

  • Take a deep breath
  • Close your eyes and count to ten
  • Chew gum as a distraction
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Listen to calming music
  • Engage in more physical activity
  • Practice the art of meditation and mindfulness

When taking a deep breath to calm down, inhale for three seconds and then exhale for another three seconds. This breathing exercise can help keep you calm under pressure and gives you a moment to focus on the positives and distract you from your anxiety disorder.

Expressive writing is another relaxation technique you can use daily to help control your stress level and dispel negative thoughts.

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A study[5] showed that expressive writing could help relieve your stress level and combat negative and intrusive thoughts. It helps you overcome your negative experiences by putting things into perspective, so you can focus more on the positives.

How to Calm Someone Down

Knowing how to calm someone down in any situation is important. It can create empathy and benefit you, the other person, and those around you who might have encountered an uncomfortable situation.

Suppose you come across someone exhibiting negative feelings. In that case, it is possible to calm them down as long as their behavior doesn’t turn into aggressive behavior toward you or others.

1. Deep Breathing

When someone is in the middle of an anxiety attack, deep breaths can help immensely. To help calm someone down, practice deep breathing techniques with them. Offer them a glass of water and show them how to relax with progressive muscle relaxation. Clench and then release each body part to help with any tension they may be feeling in the moment.

2. Listen

Instead of bombarding someone with all the techniques that work well with you, listen to them and find out what would be best for their situation. Allow them time to vent their feelings or frustrations and refrain from offering unsolicited advice. When speaking with someone you are trying to calm down, speak calmly and subdued.

3. Moderate Yourself

Since anger, fear, and anxiety can spread, you need to moderate yourself before you can help others. If you have difficulty displaying positive and healthy emotions, be honest and let the other person know. If you need to take a breather yourself, then do so.

4. Offer Unconditional Support

Instead of stress management techniques, you can also validate the other person’s feelings when trying to calm them down. Don’t tell them they are overreacting. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are feeling, and what, if anything, they need from you.

When You Can’t Calm Someone Else Down…

Sometimes an upset or anxious person needs more than we can offer them. In more serious cases, they may need some professional help. Symptoms of a panic attack often include physical manifestations, including raised blood pressure, possible heart attack, difficulty breathing, raised heart rate, palpitations, and even lightheadedness.

If the person you are trying to help exhibits these health conditions for a sustained amount of time, then they must seek medical advice to determine if these symptoms are purely physical or are part of a mental health condition.

Final Thoughts

We know in our minds what we should do. When we’re in the thick of experiencing mental and emotional turmoil, it’s harder to implement what we know. In those moments, you’re unlikely to have the capacity to think about what you need to do, let alone do it effectively to help you feel calmer.

The key is to practice so that your toolkit and supplies are easy to access when the storm is brewing. You already know your safety drill well.

Knowing you have strategies and prepared processes up your sleeves helps you become better at calming yourself in a stressful situation and gives you more confidence to face anxiety-provoking stressors. Why is this? Because you have developed the resources to handle an anxiety disorder and negative emotion.

How you invest time and energy into getting to know your triggers and thresholds will influence how effective these strategies will work for you. We’re not denying relaxing baths or regular massages are helpful; however, these Band-Aid-like solutions don’t really confront the root causes.

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If you truly want to turn your experience of your stress and anxiety symptoms around, dig deeper, do the groundwork, and that which rattled your cage will quickly become a thing of the past.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Helen D'Silva

Performance Psychologist for Business and Entrepreneurship, Sport and Personal Development

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