How to Calm Anxiety: 23 Ways to Reduce Stress

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How to Calm Anxiety: 23 Ways to Reduce Stress

Woman doing yoga which is something you can do if you're wondering how to calm anxiety

We are in the midst of a global anxiety crisis—one that didn’t just disappear once we hit 2022—so naturally, we’re all wondering how to calm anxiety. “You can’t keep a fight-or-flight response up for a year,” says Miranda Beltzer, a Ph.D. candidate researching emotion regulation and anxiety disorders. “It’s a perfect storm of things that can make people emotionally disregulated.”

According to the Household Pulse survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau, well over 50% of adults in their 20s and 30s exhibited symptoms of anxiety- or depression-related disorders in November 2020, and the stats have been (understandably) high since the weekly survey began in April 2020. As anxiety rises, so does our need for self-care.

“Of course, we’re all feeling down, but that doesn’t mean we get to skip taking care of ourselves,” says Julia Colangelo, DSW, LCSW, a therapist and adjunct lecturer at Columbia University. “It’s important to honor any and all emotions, and continue to seek out support as you may have before the pandemic.”

Take a mental health day.

Tracking your moods can also allow you to plan ahead for low days. For example, your mental state may fluctuate with hormonal changes throughout your cycle, so if you know you typically see signs of anxiety just before your period, “you can begin to anticipate certain waves of emotions and inform those around you,” says Colangelo. She suggests planning something with friends, or taking a mental health day if you can, just to relax.

Self-massage can help relieve pain and stress while stimulating physical touch—and, if you prefer, you can be socially distant while you do it. Try a reflexology technique or outsource your rubdown to one of the best heated mechanical foot massagers.

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Strengthen Familiarity with What Triggers You

When you have arguments with your loved one, do you stop and look to see if there are certain things you fight about? Are there certain behaviors they display that drive you bananas?

Perhaps you feel the anger welling up inside your chest and you then spurt out that you’ve told him or her ten times before to not leave their underwear lying across the bedroom floor.

Think a little deeper. Ask yourself what values, standards and expectations you have that are not being met here. You’ll likely be attached to certain ways you believe things should play out. Are there assumptions and expectations as to how you believe people should conduct themselves and principles about how you feel you should be treated?

It is often when people behave in ways inconsistent with our belief systems and events unfold in discord with what we expect and are prepared for that we feel the most stress and anxiety.

Reviewing how you react when you’re stressed and anxious, and identifying which of these three options above is going to best serve you, can greatly increase your ability to feel and be in control of calming your reaction.

Identify and Develop Physical Anchors

You actually have within you resources to provide some of the most effective ways to calm yourself down in heightened moments you feel stressed and anxious. Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Peter Levine and expert in treating stress and trauma, teaches us how techniques which do this, such as Somatic Experiencing® [1] can significantly help us calm down.

By learning to be fully present and applying touch to certain areas of your body (e.g. forehead and heart space), you increase your capacity to self-regulate. You also learn how to attend to and release your unique symptoms that your body has been containing in a way you have not been able to before.

  1. Get in a comfortable position
  2. Have your eyes open or closed, whatever feels most comfortable for you
  3. Now place one hand on your forehead, palm side flat against the skin
  4. Place the other hand, palm down across your heart space above your sternum… the flat of your chest area.
  5. Gently turn your attention to what you feel physically in the area between your two hands. Observe and just take notice of what you physically feel. Is your chest pounding? How strong are its beat and the rhythm? Do you notice any other sensations anywhere else between your two hands?
  6. Don’t try to push or resist what you’re feeling. Try to just sit with it and remain this way with your hands in place until you feel a shift, a physical one. It might take a little longer, so try to be patient.

You might feel a change in energy flow, a change in temperature or different, less intense sensations. Just keep your hands in place until you feel some kind of shift, even if gradual.

It might take you even 5 to 10 minutes but, riding this wave will help you to process what discomfort your body is containing. It will greatly help to release it so you gradually become calmer.

Purely cognitive exercises can be tough at the outset. Learning somatic experience techniques is particularly helpful because you’re engaging in exercises where you physically can feel the difference. Feeling the changes helps you increase confidence you can control and reduce the discomfort you’re feeling. You’ll be motivated to keep practicing and improving this skill you can take anywhere, anytime.

21 Easy Ways to Create a Calm Mind (Without Meditating)

While juggling a full-time job and my writing, I found it easy to lose track of the days. Weekends ceased to exist and my life ebbed and flowed between working and writing, the two constantly blurring into one another.

I dragged myself from day-to-day without a moment’s rest in between. When I did rest, I’d feel guilty for taking a break from working on my dreams, and it didn’t take long for the guilt to turn into frustration.

I intended on using every free moment I had from my job to write, without realizing the true consequences of what I was doing. And by constantly pushing myself forward, I never gave my mind the space it needed to shape and form my thoughts; I never allowed myself to simply be, which resulted in all kinds of mental blocks and frustrations which met my writing progress head-on.

I was on my way to burnout, and fast, and I knew I needed to make a change. So I turned to meditation. It helped me become more mindful throughout the day and approach my writing from a new angle of clarity.

As I began to incorporate mindfulness into my daily routine, I found it easier to give myself permission to relax and unwind from the pressures of my day job, rather than simply filling every moment with something more to do.

Mindfulness Goes Beyond Meditation

By simply tuning into the small things in life, you can work your way towards a greater happiness and fulfillment in your own life. Here are twenty-one ways you can boost the quality of your mind, without meditating.

1. Create a mindfulness mantra.

As Eckhart Tolle says, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.” Every morning I remind myself that my new life starts today, which helps me step into the now and connect more deeply with the present moment and separate myself from the worries of my mind.

2. Remind yourself you’re not your thoughts.

Whenever a negative thought occurs in your mind, simply identify it as a “thought” or “feeling” and move on. You’re not scorn or regret, and you’re not self-doubt or anger. You’re separate from your thoughts and they’re separate from you, so why dwell on them?

3. Accept that thoughts arise naturally.

And if you can’t change them, then why bother trying to replace them with different and “better” thoughts? Don’t beat yourself up over something you can’t control, but don’t ignore them either; simply move past them and choose not to identify with them, even as they cloud your mind.

4. Breathe.

Take a long breath through your nose and breathe it out through your mouth. This can help to calm you and remind you that your thoughts are a small part of the infinitely vast world around you.

5. Thank someone in any way you can.

Even the small act of saying “thanks” to a cashier can reconnect us with the present moment, and it can also prevent us from becoming stuck in our own thoughts, which block us from enjoying life as it comes.

6. Smile at a stranger.

Smiling helps focus our attention outward to the people around us, and by reconnecting with this gratitude for others, we can connect more deeply to the present moment and remind ourselves to simply be.

7. Go for a nature walk.

8. Keep a daily gratitude habit.

9. Leave your phone on silent all day.

You can also turn off your phone’s notifications, as these can be distracting and pull you away from the present moment. Your messages will still be waiting for you there later when you’re ready to go through them.

10. Eat slowly.

Focusing on the texture and the taste of what you eat can help remind you that while all feelings are temporary, it’s important to truly experience the moments as they come, rather than letting them pass you by.

11. Drink tea.

12. Take a bath.

Baths can help you relax by forcing you to take a step back from the bustle of the day, and they can be a great way to let your worries fall away as they fade into the heat of the water.

13. Listen to instrumental music.

14. Tackle one of the most stressful things on your to-do list.

While it’s important to be mindful despite the demands of your day, don’t avoid completing a stressful task on your list if it’s giving you unneeded anxiety. If you need to finish your taxes, for example, but keep putting them off, then it might be useful to complete them to get rid of the stressful thoughts that come from procrastinating.

15. Have a deep conversation with somebody you know.

Fully focus on the other person and listen to what they have to say. By not simply waiting to say our piece, we can help pull ourselves out of our own heads and connect more deeply to the moment by showing appreciation to the people we talk with.

16. Watch your favorite show.

It’s important to take time out of our day to reward ourselves, and indulging in a simple pleasure like watching a show we like can help us step away from our worries and enjoy our free moments from the bustle of life.

17. Write a haiku or any restrictive poem.

18. Do a word puzzle.

Crosswords can help your mind be creative and can boost your intelligence, as well as the overall clarity of your thoughts. They can also provide a break from your daily routines, all while being fun to complete.

19. Do the dishes.

Doing the dishes can be a great way to take a break from life, and also be productive while you’re at it. Cleaning dishes can help you feel great, and it pulls you away from your current thoughts, which in turn, can give your mind permission to relax and recharge from the stress of the day.

20. Stare at a piece of art you love.

Whether it’s the Mona Lisa, a poem you like, or a drawing that your spouse made, nothing is off the table here. Art is subjective, and it can help you feel and fully embody the moment by showing your appreciation for the work of others. (Just don’t think about why you like something, as that’s not important here).

21. Pet a dog or cat.

Feel the fur beneath your hands and the softness of their skin. Petting an animal can help release our tensions and connect us to the moment, and can pull us away from our thoughts.