How to Calm Down When It Feels Nearly Impossible
Let’s face it: there are many stressors we face in life — from relationship problems and job issues to the uncertain state of the world. Whether it’s just a little stress or a big ball of panic in the pit of your stomach, learning how to calm down is essential for all of us.
The problem is that learning how to calm down isn’t always easy, especially when you are in a moment of panic or stress. As someone who has dealt with anxiety for all of my life, there have been many times when I have felt flooded with stress and anxiety, with no clear way of relieving it.
How to calm yourself down when angry
Anger is probably the most difficult emotion to overcome because it feels the most justified. Our anger is often a reaction to a violation of our values or boundaries. But anger is really a secondary emotion. It is the default emotion we express when we’re trying to actualize another, primary feeling like fear or sadness. Learning how to calm yourself down when angry can help you access the underlying emotion and resolve it.
Vent in a safe place
Find a loved one that is unconnected to the situation and share how you’re feeling. If that’s not possible or you don’t have the time to talk, try writing your feelings out in a journal or an email (don’t hit send!).
Validate your feelings
Get into their shoes
If someone upset you, try talking the situation out from their point of view. You don’t have to agree with them, but doing this as a thought exercise (remember debate club?) can help you depersonalize the exchange.
Meditation is a great way to learn to depersonalize your thoughts and separate from the initial angry trigger. Mindfulness allows us to watch the thoughts without attachment and learn what they’re really trying to tell us. You may be able to identify the underlying feeling.
How to calm yourself down when depressed
When you’re feeling depressed, it can be overwhelming. Depression has a habit of compounding. It steals your energy, making it harder to do the things that you know would make you feel better — which makes you feel more depressed. Having a go-to list of ways to feel better when you’re down can stop depression from gaining momentum.
Exercise and physical well-being have a well-documented effect on mood. Increasing your heart rate releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the body, and lowers your blood pressure. If you’re feeling depressed, try any physical activity you enjoy. You could take a quick walk, book a fitness class, or even dance to a fun song.
Do something small for yourself
When we’re down, it’s easy to forget to handle the basic necessities. We may not have the energy to tackle these things or might not see the point. Take a shower and eat something small. Even if you don’t feel 100% better, you will feel more accomplished.
Ever had a moment where something silly made you laugh, even when you were in a really bad mood? It can be a turning point in your mood. Keep a go-to list of TV shows, comedy specials, or other resources for when you need a good laugh to get out of a bad mood.
Reach out for help
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression (or any other mood disorder) and you’re feeling off, reach out to your therapist. An LCSW or counselor can teach you how to manage your emotional health. Having someone in your corner can make a world of difference.
How to Calm Down When You’re Feeling Extra Anxious
We all have our fair share of moments when we feel more anxious, stressed, and worried than usual. When these negative thoughts enter your brain, it’s easy to give in and allow them to take over. It’s up to you to keep them from spiraling out of control. Good news: That’s totally doable!
Focusing on your breath is one of the most effective ways to slow your racing heart and make yourself feel calmer. Research has shown that slow, deep breathing techniques can lead to feelings of comfort and relaxation, make you feel more alert, and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger.
Intense feelings of anxiety and stress that come on quickly often stem from irrational thoughts. You might start to focus on only the worst possible outcome or spiral into a chorus of what-ifs that play into your deepest fears.
Exercise helps you nix negative thoughts and encourages your body to release endorphins that boost your mood and make you feel good. Research suggests that physical activity can protect people from developing some mental health conditions and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A small 2009 study suggested that chewing gum can improve mood and reduce anxiety. This is likely because the act of chewing gum stimulates blood flow in your brain. The effects can be felt immediately and can help in the long term as well.
If you have a bathtub at home, fill it up, dim the lights, and get in for a soak. Research suggests that people who bathe in hot water for even just 10 minutes each day have better mental and emotional health.
Warm water can also ease any sore and aching muscles (and it just feels good even if you aren’t sore), which can help relieve anxiety and make you feel more calm both physically and emotionally.
Research from 2002 suggests that getting some sun can increase the release of serotonin in your brain, which can improve your mood and leave you feeling more at peace (just swipe on the sunscreen before going out).
A 2020 research review found that spending just 10 minutes outside can improve not only your mood but also your focus, blood pressure, and heart rate. And you don’t even need the sun — being surrounded by nature is soothing and calming, even on a cloudy day.
Writing out all your anxious and worried thoughts can leave you feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Journaling helps you process emotions in a healthy way and gives you a better understanding of what you’re worried about (that goes back to confronting your fears). It can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.
In a small 2009 study, college students who did expressive writing experienced less depression, anxiety, and stress after 2 months than students who were asked to write without expressing emotion or opinions.
Think about how you’re sitting — chances are good that you’re slouching. Take a moment to drop your shoulders from that uptight position around your ears and sit up straight, and you’ll find yourself feeling a bit more centered.
A study from 2009 found that students who sat upright were more likely to believe positive things about themselves than students who slouched. Sitting up straight can boost confidence, improve energy levels, and help relieve depression.
Sitting up straight and tall can also make it easier for you to take deep, slow breaths, which can make you feel calmer. Dropping your shoulders will leave you feeling instantly relaxed, since it soothes tense muscles.
A 2013 study found that listening to music before a stressful situation can make it easier for your nervous system to relax once the situation is over, which basically means it helps you control your levels of stress and anxiety, even in tough situations.
Calming music (such as classical music) or soothing sounds (such as crashing waves) can also help keep your cortisol levels down and relax your mind. If you’re looking for instant relief, listening to something soothing might be the answer.
Taking a moment to focus on what you’re grateful for can help you feel less anxious and depressed almost immediately. Research suggests that the best way to do this is to write a list of things you’re thankful for and then read it back to yourself.
When we feel anxious, our pupils dilate and our faces tense up. Close your eyes and leave them closed for a few moments. Focus on completely relaxing your facial muscles. This simple exercise can eliminate that tension and bring you back to a state of calm.
There’s a scientific reason therapy animals are a thing (and no, it’s not an excuse for folks to fly with their pets for free). A 2002 study found that people who own pets have overall lower heart rates and blood pressure levels and are able to better manage stressful situations.