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8 Quick Strategies to Cultivate Calm in Chaotic Times

Right now, you might be feeling anxious, restless, and really scared. The coronavirus pandemic is so surreal and shocking, isn’t it?

You also might be furious with yourself because you can’t seem to get it together. Even though there are moments of competence and confidence, you largely feel like you’re falling apart.

According to California-based psychotherapist Joy Malek, MFT, “fear and pain are inevitable human experiences.” So, the way you’re currently feeling is absolutely understandable—and thankfully you can cultivate a sense of calm and safety even during such terrifying times.

Here are eight simple and short ideas to incorporate throughout your day:

Lengthy Exhale

This simple breathing technique “calms down our parasympathetic nervous system,” said Miami-based therapist Sage Rubinstein, LMHC. Specifically, this involves inhaling for three counts and then lengthening your exhale to six counts, she said.

Chanting HUM

The sound of hum stimulates the vagus nerve, which “sends a message to your brain—from your body—to calm down, relax, and soften,” said Sherianna Boyle, author of eight books, including her newest book Emotional Detox for Anxiety: 7 Steps to Release Anxiety and Energize Joy.

She suggested inhaling through your nose and then, on the exhale, making the sound of “hummmm” with your lips slightly closed. Do this practice three times in a row to immediately experience the calming effects, Boyle added.

Left Nostril Breathing

This is another relaxing breathing technique from Boyle: Sit up tall and make sure your chin is parallel to the floor. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril. Slowly inhale through your left nostril for three counts and exhale from the same nostril for four counts. Do this for 30 to 60 seconds.

Your Five Senses

“Our physical senses are an incredible gift, because they have the power to connect us with the present moment,” said Malek. And connecting to the present prevents us from panicking about the future. Malek suggested exploring these questions:

  • What do I see? “Notice shapes, colors, and movement, around you. Let your eye linger on what’s pleasurable.”
  • What do I hear? “Allow all the layers of background sound to rise into your consciousness.”
  • What do I taste? Focus on the different flavors and textures in your mouth.
  • What do I feel? You might feel everything from the soft fabric you’re wearing to the cool temperature of your room to the cold floor beneath your feet.
  • What do I smell? Experience this sense with curiosity—whether you pick up a pleasant or unpleasant scent.

Legs Up the Wall 

This yoga-inspired pose helps to circulate your blood, “giving some of your lower extremities a natural way to receive energy,” said Boyle. This is important because “poor circulation can lead to fatigue, tension, muscle aches, and high levels of stress.”

To start, put on calming music and light a candle. Place a soft rug, yoga mat, or blanket by a wall. Take off your shoes, and lie down with your legs elevated. According to Boyle, start by inhaling through your nose—inflating your stomach—on the count of three. Exhale—bringing your navel toward your spine—for a count of four. 

Blowing the Pinwheel

Boyle recommended inhaling through your nose and exhaling as if you’re trying to spin a pinwheel. “When you exhale be sure to pull your navel in and up—like you are putting on tight pants.” And then repeat, making sure that your breathing is “slow and rhythmic,” she said. 

Posture Check-in

What is your posture right now? Hunching over can trigger a fear response and shortness of breath, Rubinstein said. However, sitting upright gives “our lungs the space to breathe properly.” So, do a quick posture check-in throughout the day, and adjust accordingly.

Light Stretching

Doing light, simple stretches communicates to your body that “all is well and you are choosing to tune into the moment —where anxiety and fear cannot live,” Boyle said.

For example, she suggested trying these two stretches: Reach your arms above your head, interlace your hands, and stretch side to side; place your ear toward your shoulder to stretch each side of your neck.

“We are grieving the loss of normalcy and working to recalibrate while having so much uncertainty about the future,” Rubinstein said. Let yourself feel the range of your feelings—and know that you also can access calm within when you need it most.

8 Quick Strategies to Cultivate Calm in Chaotic Times


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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.


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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). 8 Quick Strategies to Cultivate Calm in Chaotic Times. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/8-quick-strategies-to-cultivate-calm-in-chaotic-times/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 Apr 2020 (Originally: 9 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.