blog post title graphic with a modern red flower on a beige background that says 5 Practical Ways to Be Calm and Release Stress

Be calm and release stress with these 5 science-backed strategies.

Maybe you’re feeling stressed about the future, disappointed about a relationship, frustrated about your life’s direction, or all of the above. These emotions can lead to an activated sympathetic nervous system. This matters because it’s difficult to know how to release stress and become calm again when you feel stressed or anxious.

Calming stress or anxiety typically means that you’ve returned to your baseline level or your normal resting state, called homeostasis. Most people experience relief, fewer negative emotions, and a sense of well-being when they’re in this state.

Stress has so many negative consequences that learning strategies to calm emotions and think clearly about your needs can directly benefit your well-being.

Check out these simple and effective strategies to be calm – no matter what happens!

1. Mindfulness Skills

Mindfulness-based skills can reduce anxiety and depression, which are significant stressors in life. Sometimes, it’s a chicken or egg situation – did the stress lead to anxiety and depression, or does anxiety and depression lead to increased stress? Regardless of what happened first, mindfulness helps a lot of people. Mindfulness isn’t helpful for everyone and can result in negative experiences, so if you find it’s not for you, there are other options. But, it is a great tool to be calm and release stress when it works. Often, mindful meditations are guided, which helps you stay focused on your breathing and not on the thoughts that lead to more anxiety, depression, or stress.

2. ​Thought Stopping

It’s normal and even helpful to think about the difficulties in life. You might replay a horrible interaction you had with someone over and over again in your mind. Or you might keep going over your actions if the worst happened. This can help you figure out what you need to do to repair the hurt and hopefully prevent it in the future. But going over and over it like a stuck record at some point becomes rumination or uncontrolled repetitive thought cycles.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to stop. There is a saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.” This means that your thoughts can become habits and it becomes easier for your brain to keep thinking similarly. So, it can be difficult when you decide to break out of negative thought patterns.

One of the best ways to stop repetitive thoughts is to shift the brain by focusing on something else. Forcing the brain to stop—rarely works, but action does. Your brain needs to have something to do for it to change. Distraction, changing what you pay attention to, can’t help but shift the focus. Taking a cold shower or walking briskly can grab your attention and work well. Science suggests that these strategies do help calm us down. You can also try other things – reading, watching a movie or video, calling a friend, engaging in an artistic hobby, or listening to music. There are many more, but the key is to find an activity that captures your attention (FYI, you may need to try several to find one that works).

3. Journal

Daily journaling about emotional experiences can result in minor and meaningful improvements in mental and physical health. ​Repetitive thoughts about the past, playing it over and over again in your head, is unhelpful; sometimes, writing about a painful experience helps to get it out of your head. This seems to be freeing and breaking the cycle, which might be why journaling can be helpful.

Other types of journaling can help increase your ability to be calm and release stress. Gratitude journaling is another journaling that the research shows is beneficial for your well-being. When you shift your focus to what you’re grateful for, you can decrease negative and increase positive emotions, making you feel calmer.

4. Yoga

Yoga has been a popular mental and physical wellness activity for many years. It can help with your physical well-being by increasing your movement. It increases your flexibility and relaxes tense muscles as well. It’s also a way to calm and relax the body and mind together. The calming effect of yoga, something practitioners have known for centuries, is confirmed by current research. Doing yoga regularly can lower cortisol levels, a hormone that increases when stressed. If yoga helps you feel good, it can also support your mind and body as you calm down stress and anxiety.

5. ​Practice Acceptance

Relaxation techniques like those described above can help to prevent and lower negative emotional experiences. However, for some people, they can paradoxically increase negative emotional experiences. Mindfulness, yoga, and journaling aren’t for everyone. Sometimes, the solution is to practice Acceptance and passivity (versus control) over the body and mind. This is to say that instead of focusing on the outcome – less stress- we need to focus on the process – do the calming or relaxing strategies improve your quality of life? For example, instead of taking deep breaths expecting an immediate result, ‘Am I calm yet,’ focus on being present, allow yourself to experience your emotions as they happen, and then resolve them in your own time.

In Sum

Sometimes, stress relief seems like a distant goal, but simplifying simplifies it. Practical tools that support being calm and releasing stress can be as simple as paying attention, shifting your attention, getting ‘it’ out of your mind, or even allowing yourself to accept that stress happens and feelings can be intense and diffuse. Tell me, which strategy do you think you’ll try?