Woman listening to music to stay calm with anxiety

We all worry and get upset from time to time. It’s a normal part of life, right? But when anxiety or anger take over, being able to calm yourself is key. 

Life throws challenges at us on a regular basis and once our stress levels ratchet up, we experience a deluge of negative effects. Not only does our body have to cope with a flood of the hormone adrenaline, which amps up heart rate and blood pressure, but our emotional intelligence and decision-making skills also take a knock; problems are blown out of proportion and we lose our sense of perspective. Harness the ability to stay calm, however, and you’ll be more creative, make better decisions and protect your health and wellbeing. So, whether you need to gather yourself before a big presentation, calm down after a tough conversation or bring yourself back from the brink of burnout, here are five fast techniques for your calm-down toolkit.

1) Take a breath

Studies show that conscious breathing helps regulate our emotions and activates our parasympathetic nervous system – the calming response in the body. Happiness researcher Emma Seppala recommends this breathing exercise in moments of stress: breathe in to a count of four, hold, and then breathe out for up to twice as long – to a count of 6 or 8. Gently constrict your throat when breathing out, making a sound like the ocean – this will give a boost to your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate and blood pressure.

2) Find your mantra

Have a phrase to hand that you can deploy in critical situations to help you keep things in perspective. Try: “Will this matter to me this time next week?” or “In half an hour this will be over.”  Psychiatrist Judith Orloff recommends repeating: This is a transient situation. I will find the best way to handle this. Everything will be okay.” Talking to yourself kindly, warmly and calmly, she adds, helps us stay rational and keeps things in perspective; it might sound cheesy, but research suggests that self-compassion really does lower stress and cortisol levels and promote resilience.

3) Get some exercise

A short workout or a quick run not only reduces immediate stress levels, it also increases resilience to stress in the longer term. Research has found that staying active during work issues, family emergencies and relationship troubles helps you experience the stressors less severely and survive the situation in better physical and mental health.

4) Listen to music

When we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, studies show that we actively avoid listening to music – a big mistake, according to researchers. According to research, taking the time to put on headphones and listen to any music – but especially quiet, classical music – slows our heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases the level of stress hormones.

5) Use DIY acupuncture

No spa? No problem. A DIY acupuncture technique known as ‘tapping’ (or Emotional Freedom Technique) has been proven to provide instant anxiety relief, possibly by signalling to the ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain (amygdala) to calm down. To try it, begin tapping the outside of your left palm with your right hand seven times. Then transition the tapping from your hand to between your eyebrows and move around your head from the outside of your eye, underneath your eye, underneath your nose, on your chin, on your collar bone, and finally under your left arm, before returning to the top of your head. Here, EFT master practitioner Jemima Bladzell shows how it’s done.

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