In today’s world, “calm, cool, and collected” isn’t an easy mindset to maintain. Amidst an ever-more-bleak news cycle and a mass WFH status, caring for your mental health should be among your top priorities (if not the top priority). When you find yourself slipping into catastrophic thinking about the past, the present, or the future, psychologists say it helps to load your wellness toolkit with smart strategies for how to calm down on the fly.
“Typically individuals begin to feel like they’re going to freak out when something is unexpected or the individual feels as though they have lost control or don’t have control,” says Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, lead therapist at Manhattan Wellness. “It’s human nature to like things to be predictable and in our own control. So in a time like this when we are told what to do, and our ability to do many things we enjoy are being stripped away, it can be triggering.”
“It’s human nature to like things to be predictable and in our own control.” — Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW
Clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, adds that human beings tend to exacerbate these twisty, uncomfortable feelings by doing what—sigh—so many of us do best: pretending like they don’t exist. “Don’t ignore the early signs that you’re getting upset,” she says. “Stop early and as often as you can. Don’t ignore or repress your emotions. If you can’t deal with them immediately, set a specific time for it.” Give yourself 20 minutes to make it through a meeting, get home, or finish up a phone call. Then, turn to these eight psychologist-approved tips for bringing your freak out level down from a 10 to a two.
9 answers for how to calm down—straight from psychologists
1. Get yourself out of the situation (if you can)
There’s nothing, I repeat nothing, wrong with excusing yourself from a situation that’s causing you inner-turmoil. If a family FaceTime session turns into a news briefing that you just don’t need right now, make an excuse and hang up. “Shut a door, put on headphones, or do something that sends a ‘not available’ signal,” says Dr. Daramus. “If nothing else, let people know that you’ll be available in X number of minutes.” Use that time to return back to yourself.
2. Picture your emotions visually to understand them better
“In a given moment we can feel calm and stable and then a tidal wave shows up, crashes down and we return to normal,” says Silvershein. “I encourage individuals to see this visual and begin noticing where they are in the water cycle: calm, crashing, high intensity, etcetera. When we can identify that we are feeling stressed or worried but identify that this will pass and things will go back to normal typically we can begin to feel calm again.” While you do this, consider that you’re a buoy and not an anchor; your emotions are ever-changing.
3. Crack open a journal and let the words flow out of you
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Putting pen to paper often feels like taking a good, hard look in the mirror. As you fill the pages, though, you will start to feel better. “In moments of anxiety and stress journaling is key,” says Silvershein. “Journaling enables individuals to fully complete their thoughts and allow them to exit their minds. When we have a thought and are constantly reflecting and ruminating on it without an exit strategy, our worry only grows.”
There’s really no “wrong” way to journal, so find a prompt (we’ve got a bunch for you here), and don’t let yourself overthink it too much.
4. Meditate or practice all the yoga
“Meditation is a classic for a reason,” says Dr. Daramus, “and a lot of the meditation apps are increasing their free offerings right now. Calm and Headspace are both options.” If moving meditation is more your style, fire up a relaxing, on-demand yoga class and down dog your way out of the funk.
Here’s a quick flow to try:
5. Carve out time to exercise
“Move. Run. Climb. Do sprints up and down the hall or the stairs,” says Dr. Daramus. The happiness hormones your body produces while you’re working out will remind you just how sweet life can be, and calm you down.
6. Consider your fears in a three-part system
When Silvershein’s patients come into her office full of fear, she asks them all to complete the same exercise. “I commonly have clients think of their fears in a three-part system: worst-case scenario, best-case scenario, and—most importantly—the most likely scenario,” she says. “When we begin tracking worries in this way it enables us to see what truly happens and also allows us to look back at previous experiences to better inform what will happen in the future. It shows us how resilient we are at overcoming life’s obstacles.”
7. Do an activity that claims all of your attention
“Anything that takes up all of your concentration so that your mind has no room for anger or anxiety will help you feel more calm,” says Dr. Daramus. If that means making an origami crane, cool. If you’d feel better cooking a loaf of bread, that also works!
8. Try not to think of things in terms of “winning” or “losing”
When things aren’t going the way we hoped, our mind cues up the classic “I’m a loser!” mentality. When you see this happening, notice it and course correct. “In a conflict, get out of the win or lose mindset and look for a way that everyone can have enough of what they need,” says Dr. Daramus. “Check your own entitlement because defending it is probably stressing you out. Refuse to accept a solution that doesn’t give you enough—not all—of what you need.”
9. Hit shuffle on your favorite playlist
You don’t need to. listen to waterfall nature soundtracks to help you chill out when you feel out of control. On the contrary, Dr. Daramus says that you should choose music that matches your current Big Mood. “Music changes the brain. Soothing music is great, but it can be irritating when you’re worked up. Try playing a song that matches your current energy, then a slightly calmer, and so forth. It respects your current energy and still moves you to a better place,” she says.
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