Get Through Tense Times with These 14 Calming Techniques
Is the uncertainty of the world starting to get to you? You’re not alone. Sheltering in place, hunting for toilet paper, and reading the (often) grim news out there about COVID-19 can start to wear down even the most positive, resilient among us. Keeping your cool and managing stress can help support your immune system, so it’s crucial to find calming techniques that work for you.
Try these 14 calming techniques the next time you feel ungrounded, anxious, or wound up.
1. Connect with Nature
If you can get outside to breathe fresh air and soak up some sunshine and vitamin D, do it!
Spending a mere 20 minutes away from your screens (and the news) can help you feel more relaxed, according to research.
Can’t get outside? Bring nature to you — looking at photos of the great outdoors can have a similar effect.
2. Box Breathing
Mindfulness specialist Brenda N. Umana, MPH, recommends using this breathing technique (also called square breathing) to calm and ground yourself.
- Inhale for a count of 4.
- Hold that inhale for 4 counts.
- Exhale for a count of 4.
- Hold that exhale for 4 counts.
- Repeat as needed until you feel calm and more balanced.
3. Let it Out
Exhaling triggers your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which controls relaxation, rest, and digestion. (It’s the opposite of the “fight-or-flight” response.)
Slow down your breath and focus on your exhale when you feel agitated.
Researchers found that eight breaths a minute are optimal. Aim to make your exhales twice as long as your inhales.
4. Laugh About it
Ever laugh when you’re nervous or upset? You’re not insensitive — laughing is a way for your body to calm down!
Giggling releases feel-good endorphins, and studies have shown that prolonged laughter (and laughter yoga — yes, that’s a thing!) can temporarily help your well-being.
5. 4. 3. 2. 1…
Use this technique for battling anxiety, which is designed to help you feel “grounded” and more stable.
5: Name 5 things around you. (Silently or out loud.)
4: Name 4 things you can touch.
3: Name 3 things you can hear.
2: Name 2 things you can smell.
1: Name 1 thing you can taste.
6. Feel the Weight
Grab a weighted blanket to help ease anxiety.
While there’s no “hard evidence” that these popular blankets work, they’re becoming one of the most popular calming techniques.
“The use of sensory stimuli to reduce anxiety has long been used from a therapeutic perspective — smelling essential oils, holding on to a stress ball, focusing on drawing or painting,” explains Dr. Tania Elliott, an immunologist.
A weighted blanket is “similar to swaddling a newborn to help them feel safe and protected,” she says.
7. Give Yourself a Massage
In Ayurveda, the tradition of abhyanga, or self-massage, combines the benefits of massage, meditation, and skincare, says Allaya Cooks-Campbell, E-RYT 200. Even self-massage can help soothe your nervous system.
- Spread out a towel to avoid getting oil all over.
- Then spend 10 to 15 minutes massaging sesame oil or your favorite massage oil into your body. Sit in meditation for a few minutes, and then shower it all off.
“It’s wonderfully soothing and grounding, and great for your circulation,” she says.
8. Diffuse the Situation
Some essential oils, including lavender, have been shown to have relaxing qualities.
Diffuse your favorite blend to keep calm and carry on, or simply sniff the bottle when you’re feeling on edge.
At the very least, the focus on your breath may help.
9. Push Your Buttons
Acupressure is a practice with roots in traditional Chinese medicine. The idea is that you press specific spots on the body to aid certain ailments and feelings.
For anxiety, one of those spots is directly between your eyebrows, says acupuncturist Elizabeth Martin, MSOM, L.Ac, LMT. She recommends pressing your thumb into this “Hall of Impression” point for a minimum of 30 seconds with a clockwise circular pressure.
10. Take a Bath
You don’t need a research study to tell you how calming a warm bath can be.
When life feels heavy, sink into a warm bath — perhaps with some lavender oil and Epsom salts after doing that self-massage.
No tub? A hot shower works, too.
11. Reinstitute Nap Time
Whether you’re trying to work, parent, or study, a nap might be just what you need to stay focused and calm down, according to research. If it works for astronauts, it could work for you, too!
Just limit your nap time to approximately 40 minutes.
12. Do Yoga Nidra
In addition to your usual yoga practice, yoga nidra (aka “yogic sleep”) can help you calm down.
While it looks like savasana or a nap, it’s actually a profoundly restorative practice that is kind of like a deep cleansing and reset for your emotional and spiritual self.
13. Give Yourself a Hug
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy designed to help process trauma.
One technique practitioners use is called the “butterfly hug” to help you focus on a “safe” or calm place.
- While thinking of someplace calm and soothing, place each hand on the opposite shoulder.
- Breathe slowly while tapping your shoulders gently.
- Continue until you break the cycle of thoughts and feel calm.
14. Dance it Out — or Sing
There’s a reason why dancing feels so good (even when we’re so “bad” at it).
Back in the 90s, researchers found that taking a dance class could help ease anxiety.
You don’t need to find an online class to reap the benefits (though you could start with Xtend Barre, which has some elements of dance). Crank up your favorite song and bust a move until you feel calmer and happier!
Bonus points if you sing, too: Singing has all sorts of perceived emotional and spiritual benefits, whether you can carry a tune or not!
- Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/
- Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722/full
- Autonomic Nervous System Responses to Viewing Green and Built Settings: Differentiating Between Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Activity www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4690962/
- The relaxation effect of prolonged expiratory breathing www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6037091/
- THE IMPACT OF LAUGHTER YOGA ON SUBJECTIVE WELLBEING: A PILOT STUDY europeanjournalofhumour.org/index.php/ejhr/article/view/38
- Short-term effects of self-massage combined with home exercise on pain, daily activity, and autonomic function in patients with myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4305566/
- Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: Ready for prime time? www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007527/
- Acupressure for Beginners exploreim.ucla.edu/self-care/acupressure-and-common-acupressure-points/
- Physical and Mental Effects of Bathing: A Randomized Intervention Study www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6011066/
- Effects of dance on anxiety link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00844312
The perceived benefits of singing: findings from preliminary surveys of a university college choral society