When stress, anxiety or fear flare up, these 9 techniques help keep you calmer.
We all get stressed and agitated sometimes. It’s a product of our busy, over-scheduled lives and living with circumstances we can’t control.
When you’re stressed or anxious, it causes your body to release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can increase how stressed you feel. You may also feel other symptoms, like headaches, dizziness and depression. Long-term stress can negatively affect your weight, heart and chronic health conditions. In addition to your physical health, untreated stress can have a negative effect on other areas of your life, including your mental health, professional life and social relationships.
When you’re feeling stressed, anxious, scared or nervous – or you have the urge to lash out – the last thing you want to hear someone say is, “Just calm down.” That never works. But here are 9 calming techniques that do work – and they work quickly at that.
- Just breathe. Breathing seems like the most natural thing in the world. But there are ways to breathe mindfully that help calm our bodies and minds almost instantly. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, known as a “relaxing breath,” is especially effective:
- Breathe in quietly through your nose for 4 seconds
- Hold the breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale forcefully through your mouth with a “whooshing” sound for 8 seconds
- Repeat as needed
- Close your eyes and count to 10 slowly. It really works! If you need more time, count to 20 or count backwards once you reach whatever number you are counting up to. Just taking a few minutes to concentrate on something other than your stress will do wonders for your mood.
- Chew a piece of gum. Studies show that the slow, methodical act of chewing gum keeps blood flowing to the brain, allowing you to concentrate better and keep a level head during a bout of anxiety. It also helps you resist the urge to reach for a less-healthy option, like a pint of ice cream or a cocktail, when you’re stressed.
- Phone a friend – preferably a funny one. Touching base with someone you love can provide instant calm. Laughing is proven to release endorphins, the “feel-good chemicals” in our brains that help release tension and elevate overall mood.
- Smell lavender. Light a lavender candle or soak in a lavender bubble bath. In aromatherapy, lavender is one of the stars of stress-relief, along with chamomile, rose, ylang-ylang and citrus.
- Curl up with your cat or dog. Just 10 minutes of petting your furry pal can reduce stress hormones and promote a feeling of calmness.
- Listen to calming music. Cue up your favorite tune, but nothing with a frantic beat or depressing lyrics. Then sit back, close your eyes and concentrate on the words and the rhythm. Go ahead and sing along if you wish. Studies show singing releases endorphins.
- Exercise your body. Physical activity of any kind helps release stress. Take a 15-minute timeout for a brisk walk around the neighborhood; the fresh air will also help clear your head. If you’re stuck indoors, try a few reps of jumping jacks, jog up and down the stairs or take a spin on your exercise bike.
- Exercise your mind and spirit. Practice yoga, meditate, get a massage, write in your journal, give yourself a pedicure or take a relaxing nap.
If you find these calming techniques aren’t helpful, explore other methods that may provide longer-term relief for your stress and anxiety. Eat right, avoid alcohol and caffeine, exercise regularly, always get enough sleep, and if needed, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.
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Date Last Reviewed: November 13, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD