Staying calm is important for many reasons. It helps you think logically, which in turn results in better decision making. It also prevents spikes in your blood pressure, which overtime can negatively affect your heart. By staying calm, you allow for discussion rather than heated arguments.
It’s been said that ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. The key is not to let what’s happening around you get inside and weigh you down.
The world we live in today is chaotic. With so many different opinions, people are losing their calm with one another – rather than intentionally creating calm in the world. The fact is that people with difference of opinion can peacefully co-exist if they take the time to cultivate calmness within their own hearts. Dr. Jordan Peterson, in his bestselling book ’12 Rules of Life’, said:
“Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself.”
The key component is yourself. By intentionally creating calm within yourself, your presence will calm others. This creates a ripple effect to those around you. In this challenge, you will dive into and strengthen various areas of your psyche that create calm. Beyond journaling, we encourage you to join the daily breathing exercise that inherently brings inner calm.
Remember: breathe in calmness, breathe out stress.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Monitor your breathing
“Breathing is the number one and most effective technique for reducing anger and anxiety quickly,” says Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, of Delphi Behavioral Health.
According to Healthline.com, when you’re anxious or angry, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths. Dehorty says this sends a message to your brain, causing a positive feedback loop reinforcing your fight-or-flight response. That’s why taking long, deep calming breaths disrupts that loop and helps you calm down.
There are various breathing techniques to help you calm down. One is three-part breathing. Three-part breathing requires you to take one deep breath in and then exhale fully while paying attention to your body. Once you get comfortable with deep breathing, you can change the ratio of inhalation and exhalation to 1:2 (you slow down your exhalation so that it’s twice as long as your inhalation).
Step 2: Fight or Flight Mode
When we’re stressed, sometimes our bodies interpret the stress as an attack and kick us into “fight or flight mode.” This stimulates the release of hormones like adrenaline, which constrict your blood vessels, make your breathing rapid and shallow, and boost your heart rate. Over time, this panic response can become a habit for your brain in what’s known as “automatic reactivity.”
- Slowing down and focusing on the individual physical responses you’re experiencing can help you learn to identify what it feels like when you’re stressed to the max. Studies also show that this conscious process of noticing what’s going on in your body can help retrain your brain’s automatic habits.
- Notice each thing that is going on in your body but try to avoid judging it. For example, if you’re worried about doing well on a final exam that’s in just a few minutes, you might notice to yourself, “My face feels hot and flushed. My heart is beating very fast. My palms feel sweaty. I feel nauseated.” Try to keep your noticing these things as neutral as possible.
Step 3: Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, can help you consciously release the tension in your body that can build up when you’re stressed or angry. With PMR you tense and then release your muscles in groups from your head to your toes, signaling your body to relax. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a fast way to calm down.
- If you can, find a quiet place free of distractions. You can even do PMR at your desk if you need to, though.
- Loosen tight clothing. Take a few deep breaths.
- Start with the muscles in your forehead. Raise your eyebrows as high as they’ll go and hold this position for 5 seconds. Release the tension. Then, furrow your brow as hard as you can for 5 seconds. Release the tension.
- After you release the first muscle group, notice the difference in that area for 15 seconds before moving on. You want to learn how to tell what “relaxed” and “tense” feel like so that you can consciously release tension when you need to.
- Move to your lips. Purse them tightly for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Then, smile as widely as you can for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Enjoy the sensation for 15 seconds.
- Continue this pattern of holding tension for 5 seconds, releasing, and relaxing for 15 seconds with the remaining muscle groups: neck, shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, feet, and toes.
Step 4: Distract Yourself Today
Sometimes, you need to break the cycle of focusing on whatever has upset you. Ruminating, that “broken record” loop where you think the same upset thoughts over and over again, can worsen or even cause anxiety and depression. Distraction isn’t a good long-term solution, but it’s very helpful to reduce stress in the moment and help you focus on something positive.
- Chat with a friend. Studies show that socializing with people you love can help reduce your feelings of stress. Spend some time with a friend or loved one.
- Check out something silly. “Silly” humor, like funny cat videos or a humorous movie, can help you calm down and get a little distance from whatever has upset you. However, you should try to avoid mean-spirited or sarcastic humor, as it could actually make you more upset, not less.
- Play a game. Games are great for letting us give our brains a break.
- Play with your pet. Studies show that interacting with a loved cat or dog can lower stress hormones and help you feel calm and happy.
- There are plenty of other ways to distract yourself. Pick up a good book, go for a long walk, grab your camera and take some beautiful pictures.
- Don’t try to distract yourself with alcohol, drugs, or even food. Trying to self-medicate by getting drunk or binge-eating will cause further problems, and it won’t help you address the root of what has you upset.
Step 5: Move
When you’re feeling upset, a little moderate exercise could help you feel better fast. Exercise releases endorphins in your body, which are natural mood boosters. Several studies have shown that exercise reduces feelings of anger and increases your feelings of calmness and well-being. The next time you’re upset, go for a quick run or bust into your favorite dance moves. You’ll feel better.
- Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. You don’t even have to hit the gym: walking, jogging, even gardening have excellent effects on your mood and your fitness.
- Exercise also has a preventive effect. One study suggests that aerobic exercise before an upsetting experience can help you stay calmer during that experience.
- Exercises such as yoga and tai chi, which incorporate meditation, deep breathing, and physical movement, can also have excellent calming effects.