Whenever you’re anxious, sad or overwhelmed or simply need some soothing, it helps to have a collection of comforting — and healthy — tools to turn to.
But some calming activities don’t work for everyone.
For instance, some people are allergic to bath salts, while others can’t drink herbal tea because of possible drug interactions (e.g., blood thinners). Many of us also can’t afford manicures or massages. And most of us are pressed for time.
So we asked three experts for their take on how readers can truly soothe their minds and bodies without needing more money, time or anything else, for that matter. Below are 13 strategies anyone can use to comfort themselves when they’re having a bad day.
1. Stretch your body.
Anxiety tends to hijack the body. While everyone stores anxiety in different spots, common areas are the jaw, hips and shoulders, according to Anna Guest-Jelley, a body empowerment educator, yoga teacher and founder of Curvy Yoga. She suggested standing up and doing a full-body stretch. “Reach your arms overhead then slowly fold forward [and] slowly open and close your mouth as you do.”
2.Take a shower.
Taking a shower after a rough day always makes Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit, feel better. And she’s certainly not alone. Now research is illuminating why cleansing may wash away our woes.
Mininni cited this interesting review, which notes “a growing body of research suggests…after people cleanse themselves, they feel less guilty about their past moral transgressions, less conflicted about recent decisions, and are less influenced by recent streaks of good or bad luck.”
3. Visualize a peaceful image.
The image you pick can be anything from the sun to ocean waves to a furry friend, Guest-Jelley said. She suggested combining the visualization with breath, and repeating the sequence several times. As you inhale and reach your arms out in front of you, hold the image in your mind, she said. Then exhale and bring both hands to your heart, all the while thinking of the image, she said.
4. Speak compassionately to yourself.
Being self-compassionate boosts mental health, Mininni said. (Some research even suggests that it helps you reach your goals.) This means extending yourself some kindness as you would to a good friend, she said.
Unfortunately, being self-compassionate doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Fortunately, you can learn to treat yourself with consideration and care. Here are some ideas on being kinder to yourself and cultivating self-compassion.
5. Reach out.
Reach out to people you trust to support you. “We are wired to connect with others and to comfort each other through emotional and physical connection,” said Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist and blogger at Psych Central.
6. Ground yourself.
When stress strikes, some people feel lightheaded or like they’re floating outside their bodies, Guest-Jelley said. Making a point to feel your feet against the ground can help, she said. “Grounding your feet can bring you back into your body and help you navigate what you want to do next,” she said. “Visualize thick roots growing down from your feet into the center of the Earth, rooting you and giving you a firm foundation.”
7. Listen to soothing music.
“Create a playlist of soothing songs that help you to slow down or connect with memories or positive experiences,” Hanks said. We’ve mentioned before the benefits of listening to calming music. Pairing soothing tunes with deep breathing helps, too, according to one study, which found it lowered blood pressure.
8. Practice mindfulness.
To practice mindfulness, “You don’t need to sit like a pretzel,” Mininni said. Simply focus on what you’re doing right now, whether that’s washing the dishes, walking to your car or sitting at your desk, she said. Pay attention to the sights, scents and sounds surrounding you, she said.
For instance, if you’re washing the dishes, focus on the scent of the soap and the hot water cascading from the faucet and onto your hands, she said.
Mininni applies mindfulness to her feelings. In the moment, she asks herself what her emotion feels like. Doing this actually allows her to detach from her feelings and thoughts and simply observe them as if she were watching a movie. This helps you get out of your head and into your body, she said.
9. Move your body.
According to Hanks, “If you’re feeling tempted to engage in self-destructive behavior to calm down, engage in something positive and active, like exercise or playing a physical game.”
10. Picture the positive.
When we’re anticipating a potentially stressful situation, we start thinking of all the different ways it can go wrong. Again, you can use visualization to your advantage. “To pull yourself out of [an] internal dramalogue, try imagining the situation going well,” Guest-Jelley said. “Feel what you want to feel in the moment and see yourself disengaging from tricky conversations [and] situations,” she said.
11. Zoom out.
Look at the situation or stressor from a bigger perspective, Hanks said. “When you’re in the moment, current challenges seem enormous, but placing your situation into the ‘bigger picture’ of your life may help you realize that you may not need to give it so much emotional energy,” she said.
For instance, she suggested asking yourself: “Will this matter in one year? In fie years? When I reach the end of my life, how important will this situation be in retrospect?”
12. Practice alternate nostril breathing.
Breathing techniques are an instant way to soothe your body. Taking deep, slow breaths tells your brain that everything is OK, which then calms the rest of the body. Guest-Jelley suggested going through this series:
- Using your dominant hand, “make a U-shape with your thumb and pointer finger.
- If you’re using your right hand, press your right thumb into your right nostril, gently closing it. Inhale through your left nostril.
- Next, press your right index finger against your left nostril, closing it, as you release your thumb from the right nostril – allowing yourself to exhale through the right nostril.
- Repeat by inhaling through the right nostril, then closing it and exhaling through the left nostril.
- Continue like this for at least 10 full breaths.”
13. Let yourself feel bad.
Remember that you don’t have to fix your feelings right away. It’s important to have a toolbox of healthy strategies to turn to at any time. But don’t feel guilty for feeling bad or fault yourself if you aren’t seeing rainbows and unicorns.
Mininni stressed the importance of giving yourself permission to acknowledge and honor your feelings and stay with them. “Sometimes it’s OK to just say I’m having a really crappy day,” she said.
Plus, “Feelings have a purpose,” she said. They send us important messages that something isn’t quite right, she said. When you’re ready to feel better, then reach for a healthy strategy, she said.