Be calm and release stress with these 5 science backed strategies.
Maybe you’re feeling stressed out about the future, disappointed about a relationship, frustrated about the direction your life is going, or all of the above. These emotions can lead to an activated sympathetic nervous system. This matters because when you feel stressed or anxious it’s difficult to know how to release stress and become calm again.
Calming stress or anxiety typically means that you’ve returned to back to your baseline level or your normal resting state called homeostasis. Most people experience a feeling of relief, fewer negative emotions, and a sense that 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 have a direct positive benefit for your well-being.
Check out these simple and effective strategies so you can be calm – no matter what happens!
1. Mindfulness Skills
Mindfulness-based skills can reduce anxiety and depression which are major 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 which 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, when it works, it is a great tool to be calm and release stress. Often, mindful meditations are guided, which helps us 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 we had with someone over and over again in your mind. Or you might keep going over what you would do if the worst happened. This can help you figure out what you need to do in the future to repair the hurt and hopefully prevent it in the future. But at some point, going over and over it like a stuck record 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.” Basically, this means that your thoughts can become habits and it becomes easier for your brain to keep thinking in the same way. So, when you decide you want to break out of negative thought patterns, it can be difficult.
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 that is attention getting can’t help but shift the focus. Taking a cold shower or going for a brisk walk can grab your attention and work well. Science suggests that these strategies do help calm us down. You can try other things as well – reading, watching a movie or video, calling a friend, engaging in an artistic hobby, listening to music. There are many more, the key is to find an activity that captures your attention (fyi – you may need to try several to find one that works).
Journaling daily about emotional experiences can result in small and yet meaningful improvements in both 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 breaks the cycle which might be why journaling can be such a useful tool.
Other types of journaling can help increase your ability to be calm and release stress too. Gratitude journaling is another type of 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 emotions and increase positive emotions that can result in feeling calmer.
Yoga has been a popular activity for mental and physical wellness for many years. It can help with your physical wellbeing by increasing your movement. It increases your flexibility and as well relax tense muscles. 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, which is 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/or lower negative emotional experiences. But, for some people they can paradoxically increase negative emotional experiences. Mindfulness, yoga, journaling isn’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 with the expectation of an immediate result, ‘am I calm yet,’ focus on being present, allow yourself to experience your emotions as they happen, and then resolve in their own time.
Sometimes stress relief seems like it’s a distant goal but simplifying makes it easier. Practical tools support you to be calm and release stress can be as simple as paying attention, shifting your attention, getting ‘it’ out of your mind or even allowing yourself to accept the fact that stress happens and feelings can be both intense and diffuse. Tell me, which strategy do you think you’ll try?