With the fast-paced modern lives we live, stress has become a regular occurrence for many. As a result, we often find ourselves pumped full of adrenaline, finding it hard to unwind and calm down.
According to MIND charity, one in four people will experience mental health problems every year. And thanks to the global pandemic, those numbers are increasing every day.
So bad is the problem that in 2019/2020, 51% of all work sick days were due to stress, anxiety, or depression.
From anger to anxiety, depression to stress, the world can feel overwhelming at times. And in those moments, you may feel like you'll never be able to breathe again. Learning simple ways to calm yourself down will help you feel more in control of yourself and give you the confidence to remind yourself that emotions are fleeting.
Why do you get overwhelmed?
Everybody gets stressed and overwhelmed from time to time. But some people are more prone to it than others.
Those suffering from mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression may find it harder to cope with the modern world's ever-increasing societal and work demands.
Those ignoring their stress may also end up suffering from burnout if they don’t address their triggers.
Highly Sensitive People (HSP's) account for approximately 20% of the population. Contrary to popular belief, HSP's aren't fragile, emotional people. Instead, HSP's have brains that process information quicker than the average person, which is why they are deemed "sensitive" – their senses are quicker at processing information.
With so much happening around us, HSP's can get overwhelmed and exhausted quickly.
Similarly, those who experience ADHD or autism may also find the quick-paced, overstimulating experience of the world too much to bear sometimes.
Why is stress so bad?
Our mental health is linked strongly to our physical health. Many studies have been done on the physical effects of long-term stress on our bodies.
When we are stressed, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol can cause many negative physical effects.
Stress can cause stomach problems, a decreased immune system response, cardiovascular issues, sleep problems, weight changes, migraines, dizziness, and muscle pain.
The longer you suffer from stress, the more the hormone cortisol is released into your body, increasing your likelihood of severe illness such as a heart attack.
That’s why it is so important to learn ways to break the cycle and calm down during stressful occasions.
15 ways to calm yourself down
When we get worked up, we build tension in our bodies. Some people clench their jaws, some tense their shoulders – everybody has their own pressure points.
We often forget that the simple act of breathing can be enough to release tension in our bodies.
To help you calm down, find a quiet place somewhere – it could be your room or the work toilets – and do the following two-minute breathing exercise:
Breathe in deeply, expanding your chest and lifting your shoulders as close to your ears as you can.
As you breathe out, breathe out hard with a sigh, bringing your shoulders down as you go.
Repeat this a few times, and you should feel the tension in your body start to reduce, making you feel calmer.
Below is an informative instructional video that shows how to perform box breathing, which is a useful breathing technique for calming yourself down.
Go for a walk
Fresh air and a change of scenery can help us think more clearly when we are feeling agitated.
Get out of your head by taking in the sights, sounds, and smells you experience as you walk around.
Not only will the mindfulness help you, but walking also allows you to move your body around and get rid of some of the built-up physical tension in your body caused by stress.
Walks help reduce the cortisol in your body, making it the perfect, easy calming solution.
Call a friend
Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed or worked up, we just need to vent and let out our feelings and emotions. If you have a close friend you trust and can talk to, calling a friend is a good way to release your feelings and calm down.
Similarly, if you have a trusted co-worker at work, you may find it calming to confide in them during stressful situations at work.
You don’t have to suffer alone, take advantage of your support system to help you calm down.
One reason we might feel anxious or stressed is due to a feeling of being out of control. A lack of self-confidence can lead to unrest in the body and mind.
Luckily, this simple one-minute trick, backed by science, can help you feel more confident and ready to take on the day.
Simply stand with your hands on your hips, elbows pointed out, chest up, and head facing straight on. Make the most powerful pose you can muster.
Hold the pose for a minute.
You may feel silly doing this to begin with, but your body will feel more relaxed by the end of the minute.
The trick with this is that this pose opens up and relaxes your body, making you stand tall and proud, rather than shrinking yourself and tightening your body. It's simple yet effective.
It is also a physical embodiment of confidence that can convince your mind that you feel calm and in control.
You may want to find a quiet, private place to do this if you feel self-conscious about doing it in public.
Take a bath
With the world around you moving so fast and your muscles ceasing up from built-up tension, a great way to calm down is to pause and do something relaxing.
Having a warm bath allows you to be in the moment, while the warm water helps ease your muscle pain. In addition, you can create an ambience with some lovely smelling candles to bring you more in the moment.
Make your bath even more calming with a nice bath bomb or add some Epsom salts for added health benefits.
Countdown from 10
If you've ever watched Kimmy Schmidt, you'll have heard her give this fantastic piece of advice:
"Humans can handle anything for 10 seconds".
Take her advice, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and count down from 10 to 1.
Open your eyes to a more relaxed feeling.
Repeat as necessary.
Drink some water
Studies show that dehydration increases the levels of cortisol produced in your body. Unfortunately, it can be easy to get too busy and forget to have a sip of water.
Make sure you stay hydrated to avoid building unnecessary stress in your body.
Drinking water also has the benefit of giving you a few seconds to be mindful and do something positive for your body in the middle of a stressful situation.
Always try and keep a water bottle with you, so you are never caught out by dehydration.
It doesn't have to be anything special, although you might find that having a unique bottle that you like may encourage you to pick up the bottle and drink more water.
Do some exercise
When you get angry or anxious, your adrenaline builds high. Trying to sit there while the adrenaline pumps around your body may not be the most productive thing.
We tend to think of anxiety as a mental process that triggers a physical response. Yet sometimes, when you have physical anxiety symptoms in your body, such as high blood pressure or increased stress hormones, it can trigger an anxiety response in your brain.
To combat this, take 20 minutes to do some exercise that helps you "burn off" the built-up adrenaline from your stress.
Alternatively, you might like to try doing yoga which will allow you to release the tension in your muscles while focusing on your breathing.
Exercise also releases endorphins, which are also known as the happy hormones. An increase in endorphins will help you to calm down and relax.
Do you ever feel more irritable when you're hungry? That's because your blood sugar may be low, causing stress to your body. You may also experience a foggy brain, which is when you find it hard to concentrate.
Sometimes, just by eating something, you may be able to calm yourself down and relieve some of your stress.
Keep some snacks in your work drawer just in case of an emergency, and you can say goodbye to agitation caused by hunger.
Accept you are a human being with emotions
It is normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious or angry at times. And it is impossible to control your immediate emotions – nor do you need to.
There is power in learning to accept your feelings and allowing them to pass, rather than getting frustrated and beating yourself up for not feeling your best.
Not every emotion needs a reason or a thought attached to it; you can simply let it be what it is and allow it to pass by.
Listen to music
What would the world be without music? Music has the power to make us feel emotions. Crying, laughing, love – there is music out there for every emotion.
I'm sure you have your own favourite feel-good music you listen to when you're relaxing. So why not use it to calm down when you're not?
Make a calm down playlist that you can access easily.
It can be calm, instrumental music that soothes you and quiets your mind, or upbeat music that lets you dance around the room and let go of the anxious energy inside you, leaving only the calm behind.
Journaling is an incredible tool to work through your feelings and find some calm in the middle of your storm.
As your journal is private, for your eyes only, you can be as truthful as you want.
You don't have to worry about writing the "right" thing; just focus on getting the negative thoughts in your head onto the blank page in front of you. It can really help you process your emotions and understand how you got there.
Getting your feelings out of your head is one of the most calming things you can do for yourself, and a journal works just like talking to a friend.
You can also use your journal to track the things you are grateful for. Reminding yourself of the good things you have in your life during tough times can have a tremendous calming and grounding effect.
Although there are mixed opinions, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) has been proven by some studies to have positive mental and physical well-being effects.
EFT works similarly to acupuncture. The basic concept is that you find the area of your body causing you trouble and tap your body in the corresponding area indicated by the technique to help alleviate the symptoms.
If this is a technique you would like to try, this page will introduce the techniques required.
There is a reason the phrase "laughter is the best medicine" exists. There is nothing like a good laugh to calm your body and make you feel more relaxed.
Some CBT psychologists highly recommend using laughing as a circuit break during a stressful situation.
Think about a tv show, film or comedy special that makes you double over laughing and have it on hand, ready to use when you need to calm yourself down. You can download it from streaming services like Netflix or Disney Plus to play offline.
And if you don't have anything to laugh at, no problem! The act of laughing alone is enough to create the desired calmness.
Fake a laugh and watch as it develops into a real one. It may seem silly, but it really works. And if it does feel silly, use that to turn your laugh into a real one!
Play with pets
Pets are known to have a calming effect on humans. Research suggests that interacting with animals helps to reduce the cortisol levels in our bodies.
They also help with feelings of loneliness and can provide people with a sense of support.
If you need to calm down, have a cuddle or play with your pet and enjoy the peace that comes with it.
If you don't have your own pet, see if a friend will let you hang out with theirs, or consider going and volunteering at your local animal shelter.
It can feel difficult to calm yourself down when you are in the middle of a stressful, overwhelming experience, but it is achievable with a bit of know-how and self-compassion.
Not all methods will work for all people, so don't be discouraged if you try something on the list and it doesn't calm you.
Instead, try some of the methods listed above and see what works for you.