“JUST CALM DOWN”: How to to actively calm yourself during stress

Basic keys:

1) Breathing

2) Body relaxation

3) Directed Attention (Outward Focus)

The following method is the most effective self-regulatory process for genuinely calming down. When you recognize that you’re being uncalm and you need to “just calm down”, this is how it’s done.

This method also functions for all types of self-control & self-discipline (self-regulatory) situations. Primarily, it best functions for reducing or relieving all types of acute stress, including any negative emotional state, physical pain, social irritability, social anxiety, and really any stressful environmental conditions.

As with any significant change, this requires practice. Consciously practice this as often as possible. Practice this when you’re not stressed so that it becomes second nature. Get used to applying this method during all types of stress. Look at stressful conditions as opportunities to practice the method.

1 – Breathe:  Take a slow deep breath in, and slowly and completely exhale. Then take one or two more slow, deep breaths. Repeat this as often as necessary, particularly when you’ve realized you haven’t been noticing or regulating your breathing. Don’t hurry this – it’s about slow, quality breaths. Focus on completing the out-breath: out-breath should generally be at least as long than the in-breath.

Conscious breathing is probably the most effective on-the-spot stress management tool. It is certainly the easiest to apply. The breath cycle will physiologically help the body calm down, whether you realize it or not. When executed properly, breathing is the most direct means of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the vagus nerve in particular) which will neurophysiologically cue the body back into “resting” state.

Conscious breathing allows you to physically & emotionally manage your stress response as you direct your attention away from the stress and instead focus on something simple and natural. Your breath is a calming anchor that is always available.

2 – Relax your body:  Consciously and purposefully re-calibrate your body by releasing all tension. Start with releasing any tension in your face, particularly in the eyes, forehead, and jaw. Imagine your face completely relaxed, just as it is when you’re falling asleep. Then relax your limbs, hands & feet. Loosen your grip if your holding anything. Your torso and back should be naturally straight but not stiff or strained. Become still – stop all unnecessary movement, but stay loose. Embrace loose stillness. Again, completely “untense” all your muscles from face to feet.

When you move, slow all your movements down, but don’t try too hard to be super slow, just stay steady and operate with the least possible amount of physical tension. Think to yourself “MED”:  Minimum Effective Dose, which in this case means applying the least amount of physical energy and force necessary to complete a task. Think “lightness” as you’re being still, and think “gentle” as you’re moving.

3 – Focus your attention outward / Connect with your surroundings:  As you maintain relaxed eyes, widen your vision and stay looking forward. Remember this: head up, eyes forward. Visual and attentive connection to your immediate environment will significantly reduce any anxiety associated with stress. Outward attention serves as an anchor for emotional regulation: focusing outward, visually and cognitively, helps release internal stress rather than harbor it in the body and mind. Visual connection will ultimately keep you consciously aware of the physical environment and mindful of your outer experience. Attentive vision will help you focus on something besides how you’re feeling. If you look forward while noticing your expanded peripheral, you will naturally attend to the things in front of you rather than have an internal focus. This connection to your surroundings is especially helpful in public and in social situations. Stay focused outward rather than inward. Get out of your own head. Keep both your visual attention and your cognitive attention centered on the elements of your current physical environment. Engage your outer experience. Actively manage your attention to focus on things that are not stressors, but also accept any current stressor that you cannot change rather than avoiding or resisting.

All of these steps can and should be activated simultaneously, or at least in repeated succession. The goal is to make this a constant natural process and to ultimately prevent stress but also to actively manage it so that acute stress is not too intense and so that chronic stress will not develop. The goal is cultivating calm for the purpose of sustaining joyful well-being.

Review: Quick Guide for Calming

1) Breathe. Take two or three, full deep breaths. Keep breathing intentionally but naturally. Any feeling of stress, whether physical or emotional, is your cue to start breathing better. The more intense the feeling, the more important it is to focus on consistent breathing.

2) Relax your body. Untense all your muscles, starting with your eyes and face. Keep your body still but loose. No unnecessary movement or stiffness. If movement is necessary, move gently. Remember loose stillness.

3) Focus outward / Connect. Remain looking forward and stay visually connected to your surroundings in a non-vigilant, relaxed manner. Focus your attention on things other than yourself, and keep redirecting your attention outward.

If you try these things and continue to practice implementing these steps in a unified cycle, they will work. You will be able to consciously calm yourself and manage your stress response in almost any type of non-life-threatening stress. Breathe, relax your body, and focus outward. Repeat.