Managing your emotions, especially in times of stress and anxiety, isn’t easy. Our brain’s limbic system handles both our emotional and physical response to emotion. And when that system is over-activated, it can be hard to come down. Luckily, there are simple tools to help calm you down and feel more grounded.
Try this go-to tool to ease big emotions. The half smile is a relaxed face with upturned lips. It’s not a full smile, no one needs to see that you’re smiling. This physical act helps communicate to your brain that you can handle this moment.
Willing hands if seated: Both feet are flat on the floor. Hands are palms up, open with fingers relaxed.
If standing: Loosely drop your arms by your sides, straight or slightly bent at the elbow. Open, relaxed palms face out to the room.
If lying down: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Turn your open palms up with fingers relaxed.
Follow these steps to bring your breathing to a steady rhythm, calm your nervous system and relieve stress. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and has the power to reduce your blood pressure.
Breathe in slowly and deeply, really feel your belly expand, for 4 seconds.
Hold that breath for 4 seconds.
Slowly exhale for 4.
Hold for 4 without taking a breath.
Keep repeating until you feel your system relax.
Take it a step further and slow your breathing down.
Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose for 4 seconds.
Hold for 7 seconds.
Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
You can try slowing it down even more.
Kids can also learn deep breathing to help them control their emotions. Parents and teachers, check out this demonstration from Integral Care child therapist Kelly Bodu, MA LMFT.
If you’re feeling stressed, fatigued or depressed, boost your mood with some 10-second self-love. Wrap your arms around your ribcage and grasp your back. Or, fold your arms and grasp your shoulders. Do whatever feels right to you! A self-hug lowers the stress hormone cortisol and activates pressure receptors in the skin, lowering blood pressure.
This self-hug is a form of bilateral stimulation, which means it activates both sides of the brain. It balances your nervous system and lowers feelings of stress. Check out this video tutorial from TFY Support Group.
This is the same principle as the Butterfly Hug but uses sound. One form of auditory bilateral stimulation is listening to tones that alternate between the left and right sides of the head. There are many channels on YouTube. Just put on your headphones and search Binaural Beats.
This one’s a go-to strategy in Dialectical Behavior Therapy for calming intense emotions, like overwhelming sadness or a strong feeling of anger. Watch clinical psychologist Ali Mattu, Ph.D. demonstrate this method. (Note: his “Psych Show” on YouTube is fantastic and fun to watch.) Though not as effective as practicing the dive response, holding onto some ice cubes, splashing your face with cold water or taking a cold shower can help too.
Fill a sink or large bowl with cold water, add some ice. Dunk your face in the water, holding there for as long as you can. Come up for air and repeat until you feel calmer.
This exercise triggers your brain’s cold water “dive response.” Your heart rate slows, blood flow to nonessential organs is reduced and so are your emotions.
Yep, according to a 2009 study a stick of gum can improve your mood and reduce anxiety. In addition to releasing tension that you may be holding in your jaw, the act of chewing boosts blood flow in your brain and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Whether you’re feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed or angry, taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness is calming and re-centering. 5-4-3-2-1 is an exercise easy to remember. Identify 5 things you can see, close your eyes and identify 4 sounds you hear, 3 things you can feel/touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 you can taste.
Mindfulness is a great tool for calming kids as well. Parents and kids, check out Integral Care child therapist Kelly Bodu, MA LMFT demonstrating what she calls Catching the Rainbow. (Skip to 1:40.)
Even if it’s brief, go for a run or brisk walk, play a sport, dance to some fast music, do jumping jacks. And, of course, using a punching bag would do the trick! Physical activity changes your body chemistry, using up excess adrenalin and calming emotions.
Acupoint stimulation, like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), relieves emotional stress by tapping on the body’s meridian points. It’s basically acupressure for the mind and it’s easy to do thanks to a wide variety of guided videos on YouTube. Though still being researched, EFT tapping is used by mental health professionals to treat people with anxiety and PTSD. It’s shown to relieve fear, OCD and grief as well as boost confidence. Here’s one helpful EFT YouTube playlist.
Many of us are aware of the healing power of meditation and Tai Chi. Qigong, another ancient Chinese practice of aligning your breath, movement and awareness promotes relaxation, calms your sympathetic nervous system and reduces cortisol. It’s also known to lower blood pressure and improve immune function and increase blood levels of endorphins. A mind-body win-win! Check out David Wong’s 10-minute video Qigong for Beginners.
Just 5 minutes of a soothing activity can turn your negative vibe around. Print and hang up this graphic from psychologist Karen Horneffer-Ginter, Ph.D. and artist Paula Hansen as a reminder of all the ways we can take a break and reset.