Maybe you’re having a rough day at work. You’re clashing with a colleague. You just got out of a pointless meeting. Or maybe you squabbled with your spouse or best friend. Maybe you’re exhausted or nervous about an upcoming presentation or exam.
Whatever the situation or stressor today, you could benefit from some relief. You might want to feel more relaxed. Or maybe you need to calm down so you can think clearly. Thankfully, there are many ways you can feel calmer in the moment. Below, two psychologists share 10 helpful strategies.
- Breathe. “Breathing is the fastest and most reliable strategy to calm an anxious mind,” said Melany Tromba, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in private practice. And you can do it anywhere at any time.”Breathe in through your nose as you count slowly 1-2-3-4 until your lungs are completely full. Take a moment to hold the breath 1-2-3 and let it out at a slower pace until your lungs feel empty,” she said.Psychologist Karin Lawson, PsyD, suggested lying on your back with one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. You know you’re taking deep breaths — and using your diaphragm — when the hand on your stomach rises and falls more than the hand on your chest, she said.
“Deep breaths will activate the parasympathetic nervous system in your body, which can also be considered the calming, de-escalating system.”
Tromba suggested connecting to your breath on a regular basis — while you’re waiting in line or for a meeting to start, or when you’re at a stoplight (instead of checking your phone).
- Use big muscles. “Using some of the big muscles in your body gives an energy outlet for the adrenaline,” said Lawson, clinical director of Casa Rosada and Embrace Programming at Oliver-Pyatt Centers.This isn’t about working out since you might be at work wearing a suit or jeans. Instead, she said, the intention is to quickly use up the excess energy that accompanies intense emotions. The intention is to create “more of a calming, less activated physiological system.”For instance, she suggested swinging your arms or lifting large objects. If you’re restricted to one spot, like the bus, she suggested doing isometrics. This might include “reaching down and trying to lift the chair that you’re sitting in.”
- Use your senses. Tromba shared these suggestions for using our five senses: look at a beautiful photograph or a piece of art; suck on a piece of peppermint; hum a calming tune; light a yummy-smelling candle; rub creamy lotion on your hands; or use essential oils, such as lavender, rose, bergamot or sandalwood.
- Try soothing gestures. “Gentle soothing touch can also induce a state of calm,” Lawson said. This might be anything from getting a hug from a loved one to getting a massage, she said. It also can include placing your own hand on your heart and feeling the warmth, she added.
- Put the stressor on a shelf. When we’re anxious or upset about something, it usually uses significant headspace, Tromba said. This can lead us to become distracted, depleted of energy, and unable to concentrate, she said.Tromba suggested writing down your thoughts and feelings about the situation, which you can return to at another time. Observe and describe what you’re experiencing, without judging or evaluating, she said. Then “imagine yourself putting the pain in a box and storing it on a shelf.”As you’re writing, consider these questions: “What is bothering me the most about the situation? What would I like to come back to later? What do I notice about my reaction to this situation?”
“The whole idea behind putting it on a shelf is to move away from reacting from emotion to responding with greater effectiveness.”
- Sing. According to Lawson, singing “typically makes you breathe deeply, and can reduce the intensity of whatever is troubling you. Try singing your frustrations or singing your desire for calm.”
- Seek space. Venture outside, or try the break room, Lawson said. Use your senses to observe the scene, such as coffee brewing or coworkers chatting. “These benign stimuli can help shift you to a more neutral state and take away the focus and energy from the distressing thoughts or situation, even if just for a bit.”
- Color. Lawson suggested checking out this coloring book made especially for adults. The intention is “to induce a sense of calm with its creative repetition,” she said.
- Explore other ideas. “What’s calming for me may not be calming for you and vice versa,” Lawson said. That’s why she suggested brainstorming additional strategies. To begin, she said, think of broad categories, such as spirituality; soothing acts (e.g., baths, massage); people with a calming presence; and calming spaces (e.g., home, outside). Experiment with all sorts of strategies to find what works well for you, she added.
- Have a stress-relieving routine. “While these quick in-the-moment strategies are effective, they are much more powerful when [they’re] part of a larger routine,” Tromba said. She likened our bodies to batteries: “If we wait to charge the cell phone battery when it is at 25 percent, and we only have five minutes to charge it, the charge may not last long enough to check e-mail, download a document, or make a call.”We need to have a routine that recharges us on a regular basis, at 100 percent.
Tromba suggested getting enough rest, eating nutrient-rich foods and moving our bodies. She suggested reducing alcohol and caffeine and being more intentional about our availability for calls, texts and emails.
She also suggested scheduling a time or times during the day to practice relaxation. Another option is to use alarms to remind yourself to take a break, she said.
Relaxing and creating calm has an effect on everything. “The more we can learn ways to calm our body (and therefore our mind), we can actually be more productive and effective in life and relationships,” Lawson said. “Know it’s worth practicing and making time for calmer states of being.”