Throughout many of our lives, we have been told something along the lines of, “You need to calm down,” (thanks, T. Swift!) This could be because we got upset, we felt anxious about something, we felt stressed, or just that we were too focused on something for their liking. The real question comes then, with how do I calm down?
The first thing to note is that you don’t always need to calm down. If you are excited about something you’re passionate about or truly upset, you are allowed to feel that way. Surround yourself with people who will uplift and support you. Life is a rollercoaster of good and bad and it’s worth riding with people who laugh and cry with you.
That being said, when you are feeling too upset, stressed, angry, sad, or anxious to be able to function, here are some suggestions to help you calm down and feel okay again.
Activities to help you calm down:
Focus on your breathing.
One of the first things that you should do when you are feeling overwhelmed is to focus on taking nice, deep breaths. A significant part of your body’s fight or flight response is triggered by your breathing patterns. Allow yourself to slow down and focus solely on your breathing.
When you hyperventilate or hold your breath, your body starts to panic, elevating strong feelings. To calm down, start by doing breathing exercises. This could be box breathing (inhaling through your nose for 4 counts, holding for 4, exhaling through your mouth for 4, holding for 4, and repeat,) or by simply focusing on taking a deep breath in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth longer than your inhalation.
Get moving around.
Two of the best activities for calming your body down are stretching and going for a walk.
Getting yourself outside to walk around for at least 10 minutes is the ideal situation. Walking around outside and getting fresh air, is a great way to calm your body and your mind. If you can’t get outside or you don’t have much free time, standing up and walking around where you are can also help you to calm down.
Drink a glass of water or tea.
Dehydration can affect your mood and even cause issues, such as headaches, trouble thinking normally, or low energy levels. Drinking a glass of cold water can help to “shock” yourself into feeling calmer, as the change in stimuli causes your body to pause and assess the situation as well as to replenish itself.
Making yourself a cup of tea also can help you to calm down, as you have to slow down to boil the water and steep the tea. Once you’re sipping on your tea, the warmth of the cup can help to soothe you and the scent can put you at ease. (Be aware of what type of tea you choose, however, because caffeine can possibly make you jittery and more anxious than before!)
Use a sensory distraction.
Similarly to how cold water can act as a temporary shock, anything small (and non-harmful) that you can use to confuse your senses are great tools. The shock factor causes your body to immediately evaluate if something is a threat to your wellbeing, temporarily halting overwhelming emotions.
While the feelings may still come back afterwards, they will be weaker. Over time, the goal is to reduce the strength of your anxiety so that you can comfortably manage it and go about your day normally.
Eating a sour candy or a slice of lemon is a great option, especially since it is easy to carry a small bag of sour candy around with you. Your face scrunches up and you forget about everything in that moment except for the sourness in your mouth. Another option would be to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can stand.
Petting an animal or being wrapped up in a weighted blanket are great sensory distraction tools, but their effects offer a more gradual calming effect, since your body doesn’t need to react to them immediately. Try these softer approaches for at least ten minutes to see a noticeable effect.
Stretching and meditating tend to go hand in hand, as one is calming for the body and the other for the mind. It is also the reason that yoga can be so popular, since it combines the two! Meditating allows your mind to slow down, release the trapped thoughts that may be circulating, and overall encourages you to feel less stressed.
Many times, if we are stressed, anxious, or angry, it happens because we fixate on an issue that is out of our control. Meditation doesn’t always solve the problem, but it allows us to take a step back and either think of solutions or to accept what is happening.
Listen to music or sit in silence.
Everyone is different, but a great way to calm down is to adjust your stimulation levels. If you find that you prefer having music, listen to something that will make you feel good, whether that is soothing instrumental playlists or your favourite heavy metal band. There are times when you may notice that listening to sad or angry music when you’re feeling down may actually make you feel better, as it is a place to acknowledge your feelings and process them.
Sometimes, having music is just another noise that agitates you rather than makes you feel better. In that case, it’s best to find a quiet space that you can sit in by yourself for a few minutes. If you can’t be in a completely quiet space, it is worth investing in noise-cancelling earplugs or headphones so that you can bring your silence with you.
Use a fidget object.
Fidget toys aren’t just for people with ADHD or autism- many people can benefit from having this small form of release. Some fidget toys, such as fidget spinners, have a bad reputation for being distracting, but the ideal fidget tool is something that you don’t have to look at and have to actively work to use. (Unlike a fidget spinner, which doesn’t require much effort but requires a decent amount of focus and hand-eye coordination.)
There are fidget cubes, rings, and other small objects, but you can often use the things already around you. Stress balls are common, but you can use things such as a small teddy bear, pens, or even a regular necklace.
This fidgeting allows a small release of energy which can help calm you down or at least stay calm enough until you can get to a place where you can safely process your emotions.
Write in a journal.
Journaling is great as a creative outlet, a place to vent, to process ideas, and to understand yourself better. There is no “right” way to journal and the important thing is just to get started! If you’re looking for some ideas to begin, check out our post about creative journaling!
Talk to someone.
It doesn’t matter if you talk to a friend, a family member, or a trained professional- the important thing is just to get your feelings out of your system. Having a therapist or counselor is a great third-party perspective who can often give you unique suggestions and create a plan for improvement.
For many people, though, a therapist may be outside of their budget, so this is where either finding local free resources or talking to a trusted love one can help. They may not be able to provide the same level of support or guidance that a professional can, but can often make you feel loved and heard, which can come a long way to helping you calm down.
One of the great things about talking to your loved ones about your concerns is that it can often strengthen your relationship. It takes a great deal of trust to share your concerns with someone and it provides them the opportunity to be kind and helpful!
Find a safe space and allow yourself to feel your emotions- cry, laugh, yell, or even do kung fu! This could be your room, your car (not while driving, though!), an open field, a therapist’s office, or somewhere else that you feel totally safe. The key is not holding back and allowing yourself to feel and process whatever you’re feeling in that moement.
Often, you’ll feel significantly better afterwards, as you’ve listened to your body. Your emotions are like the 'check engine' light in your car. While you might be able to ignore it for a little while, if you don’t listen to what that signal is telling you and keep pushing on, you are much more likely to cause serious damage in the long run. Regularly check in on and process your emotions to keep yourself functioning smoothly and living your best life!
Get some sleep.
It’s often said that when you feel like you hate everyone, you should eat something, but if you feel like everyone hates you, you need to sleep. Getting enough sleep helps with emotional regulation, processing the day’s events, and body restoration. Aim for about 7-9 hours each night, ideally going to sleep and waking up at consistent times.
If you are regularly feeling like you need to calm down, examine what’s going on in your life.
If you are feeling exhausted after work, dreading waking up in the morning, easily agitated at your coworkers, or increasingly pessimistic, you could be experiencing workplace burnout. While many of the suggestions listed above are great tools to calm down and manage stress, if you’re having to implement them regularly, you may need to make a lifestyle change.
The first step is to allow yourself to take a guilt-break from work, be it a few hours, days, or even weeks. If you immediately feel the same when you return to work, it might be a sign that you may want to start looking for a career or environment change.
Stress at home.
Outside of work, if you are experiencing similar things to burnout, or you are constantly feeling anxious, stressed or angry, examine what is leading to these feelings. Consider that it could be things such as:
Where you live. It could be the state of your living environment or the location.
Someone you interact with. If possible, talk to them about how they’re making you feel. Otherwise, it may be in your best interests to limit your interactions with them.
Your daily schedule. If you are regularly not getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, working at random hours, or trying to do too much in your day, this can cause you a fair amount of distress.
Your amount of physical activity. Our bodies rely on regular physical exercise to stay healthy and function properly. Aim for about 150 minutes of physical activity a week or about 20 minutes a day.
If you are unable to identify what could be causing you to feel this way, you may want to check with your physician. There might be an underlying cause that is agitating you and you can work together to create a solution.
You deserve to feel good. Life will not always be easy but being able to cope with stress and other emotions will help to improve your overall quality of living. Take a deep breath in and know that it will all be alright.
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This article is not intended to act as or replace medical advice. Please talk to your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.
Written by Kayla Willsey