When you're in a stressful situation, having some quick hacks to calm you down fast that you can turn to can be super helpful. Whether you're preparing to give an important presentation at work or you're in a major fight with your partner, you can't always remove yourself entirely from the situation until you calm down. That's why knowing how to get yourself into a more positive headspace quickly can be so important.
"Anxiety manifests both physically and cognitively so it is important to learn coping strategies to address both of those areas," Lindsay Cooke, LMHC, a licensed psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. If you realize that you've been tapping your foot with excess anxious energy, for example, try going for a quick walk to help get your mind off of the situation for a moment. If you can't stop imagining all of the ways that the situation can go wrong, start making a list of all of the little ways that you've triumphed recently.
While a quick fix can be useful, don't substitute that for professional help. "If you find that more times than not, your anxiety is overwhelming and you have a difficult time breaking free from it," Cooke says, "it may be best to seek out a therapist to manage anxious thinking and review cognitive-behavioral strategies in person."
Here are some ways to calm down fast, according to experts.
1. Count To 10
You may have had a parent or teacher tell you to "count to 10" before speaking if you ever felt mad at someone else. While this might seem almost too simple to be effective, it really does work, Sharon J. Lawrence, a licensed clinical social worker, certified anger management specialist, and owner of Selah Wellness & Therapeutic Services, tells Bustle. "Counting to 10 and breathing to regulate one's heightened energy is helpful," she says.
Whether you're dealing with a situation that's making you angry or one that's causing you a lot of stress, taking your mind off of the issue at hand long enough to focus on counting calms you down, Lawrence says. This tip is extra helpful if you count while walking, because the physical movement also assists you in releasing pent-up energy.
2. Carry A Soothing Scent
Smells have this amazing power to transport you to another place and time by bringing back vivid memories. In a moment where you're feeling stressed or angry, this can be an excellent tool. "Ground your body using your sense of smell," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, certified somatic therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. While lavender has a reputation for being calming, the smell you choose is really up to your personal choice. If you love drinking your cup of coffee when it's still quiet in the morning, keeping coffee grounds in a little container might be helpful. If you love the smell of the lotion you always put on after a bath, keep a travel-size bottle in your bag.
3. Use Your Sense Of Touch
Just as scents work to soothe your mind, your sense of touch can also be powerful for calming you down. "Rub your hands together for 30 seconds as if you are getting warm by the fire," Scott-Hudson says. "Then, notice that alive feeling in your hands." Or keep a patch of a fluffy blanket or a silky handkerchief in your bag so that when you feel it, your mind has something else to think about besides the situation that's aggravating you. If you have crystals, pick one up and focus on the way it feels against your fingers.
4. Sit Down
Something as simple as your posture can make a difference in your mental state, so if you're standing up and find yourself getting upset, try sitting down. "Ground yourself by really feeling the chair support you, lean against the back of the chair, and really notice the support it is giving you," Scott-Hudson says. "Feel your feet on the ground and unlock your knees, let your body feel the ground supporting you." Kendrick Lamar said, "Sit down, be humble," but if you're feeling angry or anxious, "Sit down, be calm" could be a great saying to remember.
5. Repeat A Mantra
"Memorize a single sentence to repeat to yourself the next time you are upset," Shannon Thomas, LCSW, a certified trauma therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, tells Bustle. "It should be a statement that grounds you back to the truth that acting out in anger or anxiety will cause regret later," she says.
For example, try, "I am completely capable to handle this situation" or "I will be able to get through this." As you repeat this positive statement, do your best to truly believe it, even if you don't feel it in the moment.
6. Be Compassionate Toward Yourself
Sometimes when your mind is racing, you might begin to worry about the very fact that you're anxious, which ends up worsening your anxiety level. Instead of beating yourself up over the fact that you're getting angry or stressed in the first place, extend yourself some love. "Let go of your judgment; we all have anxiety from time to time," Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, yoga teacher, interfaith minister, and author of Awakening From Anxiety, tells Bustle. "Be compassionate towards yourself." Try thinking about some of your recent accomplishments or think about the things that the people who love you most say about you.
7. Listen To A Guided Meditation
Sometimes when you're in a place of anger or anxiety, it's hard to get out of your own head and ignore whatever thoughts are racing around in there. This might be a good moment to listen to a guided meditation, Heidi McBain, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. Keep a few free meditation podcasts downloaded on your phone so that whenever you need to begin feeling calm and centered again, you can start listening. Even if you don't have time to play the entire meditation, listening to a few minutes can put you back in a more grounded headspace.
8. Do Some Journaling
You might think of journaling as something you would do after a period of stress or anger, but if possible, try to journal while you're actively feeling those emotions, McBain says. A stream-of-consciousness journaling experience can help you get some of those negative emotions out quickly, and even potentially help you figure out what steps you need to take next in order to move forward in a positive mindset. "This can help you gain more perspective and insight into what’s really going on at a deeper level with you," McBain says.
9. Doodle Your Thoughts
If you don’t know how to put your thoughts into words, channeling them into abstract shapes can be just as helpful. “Research supports that art tasks such as doodling, coloring and free drawing activate reward pathways in the brain, calm the nervous system, and improve our self-perception of our own problem-solving abilities,” says Erica Curtis, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, board-certified art therapist and author of The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy, Successful Kids through Art. You don’t even have to be a great artist for this tip to help. Try repeating the same shape or image over and over and filling them in with different patterns. “Remember the process is as important, if not more, than the outcome,” says Curtis.
10. Take A Picture
In moments of stress or anxiety, seeing the world in a different way can provide a much-needed change of perspective. “Not only are experiences of beauty and awe associated with feelings of contentment and happiness, but seeing the beauty in the mundane can cultivate a sense of gratitude for the small things in life," says Curtis. Look at something you see every day — maybe it’s a plant on your windowsill or the way the sunlight shines through your window — and try taking a snapshot to remind yourself of the beautiful things that surround you.
11. Track Your Anxiety
You’re probably already aware of certain activities or thoughts that trigger anxious feelings. But anxiety can also come when we least expect it. Using a fitness tracker that alerts you to a spike in your heart rate or reminds you to take a deep breath can be immensely helpful in those scenarios “I can tell from my FitBit when my heart rate is going up and it reminds me to take a breath," Dr. Jain says. "That's my cue that my body is responding before my mind has caught up." There are tons of fitness trackers available on the market, depending on your budget and the features you want.
12. Give Yourself Structure
During times of acute or unusual stress, your daily routine may be disrupted and normal stress relievers may not be available in the same ways. Dr. Shaili Jain, M.D., medical director for integrated care and section chief of outpatient mental health at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, clinical associate professor at Stanford University, and author of The Unspeakable Mind, suggests keeping as much structure in your day as possible and building in time for healthy coping mechanisms. “The key is to use what you already do and just double down on it.”
13. Take A Break From Social Media
In addition to being a major timesuck, according to Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD, constantly checking social media can also perpetuate stress and anxiety. “While it’s important and helpful to get information, getting constantly pinged with information deprives your mind of a chance to process the information,” she says. “Our minds actually need time to assimilate and put the information into perspective.” She recommends taking an extended break, or deleting social media and news apps from your phone for as short as 10 minutes. If you’re worried about missing an important update, ask a friend to text you if something essential comes up.
14. Take A Hot Shower
If you’re really having a hard time distancing yourself from your stress, step away from what's triggering you. “To re-grip or reclaim your senses, try getting into a really hot shower for 15 minutes and leave your phone in the other room," says Dr. Carmichael. Focus on the sensation of the water and what you’re putting on your body. If you have a new soap or shampoo you’ve been waiting to try, now’s the time to bust it out. “Novel stimuli are more gripping to us than familiar stimuli in many situations,” says Dr. Carmichael.
15. Focus On Your Exhale
"A common mistake is to focus on taking a big inhaling breath, but the actual calming help comes with the relaxed outward exhale," Thomas says. "Notice your exhale, and the pause at the end of the breath," she says. "This breathing space is where brain changes take place to help relax us when we are upset." If you're having trouble doing this, try counting how long each inhale and exhale takes you. Do your best to make the exhale breaths twice as long as the inhales. So if it takes you three seconds to breathe in, stretch out your exhale breath for at least six seconds.
Lindsay Cooke, LMHC, a licensed psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor
Rev. Connie L. Habash, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, yoga teacher, interfaith minister, and author of Awakening From Anxiety
Heidi McBain, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Shaili Jain, M.D., medical director for integrated care and section chief of outpatient mental health at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, clinical associate professor at Stanford University, and author of The Unspeakable Mind
Dr. Chloe Carmichael, PhD
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