How to Calm Yourself Down: 8 Doctor-Prescribed Tips

We all have a lot happening in our lives that can send our blood pressure through the roof and our emotions into meltdown. Maybe the build-up happens slowly: things aren’t going well at work, or with your relationship, or maybe you’re working more than humanly possible and it’s still a struggle to make ends meet. You find yourself with very little patience for anyone—your child, other drivers, the so-called customer service agent.

Or maybe your meltdown is sudden onset: You oversleep, rush to get out the door, someone cuts you off in traffic, and next thing you know you’ve blown a gasket.

The thing is, you were actually under a lot of stress even before these things “went wrong.” That’s because we are all under enormous stress—as an inherent aspect of our lives, all the time, every day. That’s why I call it Cultural Stress.

Cultural Stress is the matrix we’re living in: the constant, all-pervasive, ever-increasing stress of modern living. You can’t keep up with the demands at work. You don’t have time to socialize with friends, sleep enough, or eat and exercise as you should. You’re constantly comparing yourself with others via social media. The news is full of sensationalist stories coming at you at all hours of the day and night—even as you’re trying to drift off to sleep.

There’s really no escaping it—unless you become a primitive skills expert and disappear into the wilds. The best most of us can do is manage our stress: do the things that are within our control to reduce the impact of the stressful world we’re living in.

But what if it’s TOO LATE to manage your stress? What if you’ve already ‘lost it’?

Here are some tips for restoring your pulse—and your mental outlook—to equilibrium. They’re simple, immediate, and best of all, doctor approved by yours truly.

  1. Diagnose your condition accurately.

This is the first step in treating any condition. In this case, whatever your particular circumstances might be, Cultural Stress has intensified and compounded them. Cultural Stress is the environment in which we all live.

  1. Breathe deeply.

This is an action you can take anytime, anywhere, and it’s scientifically proven to reduce heart rate, boost the immune system, and restore a sense of calm. That’s because slow, steady diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, triggering the body’s relaxation response. Slow, deep breathing tells your body that all is well—and that affirmation helps to make it so. (For more about different types of breath training, read here.)

  1. Identify the feeling underneath the rage.

Psychologists tell us that anger and rage are often secondary emotions. They’re a habitual or learned reaction to a primary emotion, typically shame, fear, or sadness. We get a poor performance review, which makes us feel ashamed, but we react by getting angry at our boss. Our child rushes into the street and we’re terrified they’ll be killed, so we grab them by the arm and begin yelling at them. Or, we’re betrayed in a relationship and we feel terrible grief and sadness—which we cover by calling our partner every vile name in the book.

However, if we take the time to recognize our primary emotion we can often respond in a more effective and satisfying way than fuming at our boss, yelling at our child, or swearing at our soon-to-be-ex-partner. (To learn more about primary vs. secondary emotions, click here.)

  1. Repeat an affirmation or read an Insight.

When taken in context, the events that cause us to “lose it” are typically not that life-threatening, or even unusual. Our response is often out of proportion to the triggering event. (Because the triggering event was just that—a trigger.) It can be helpful to step back and gain a little perspective on the situation. One of the fastest and easiest ways to do that is by repeating a calming affirmation, or reading something that helps to ground and center you—like my own Insight cards. It’s good to have committed some of these to memory so you can repeat them to yourself as necessary:

“Life is good, bad, and indifferent. Focus on the good.”

“If it’s no big deal, don’t make a big deal about it.”

“Forgive yourself.”

“Your harshest critics are really very critical of themselves, not you.”

“Be imperfect, live longer.”

“Even in disaster, look for the good.”

“If it’s not personal, don’t take it personally.”

Another one I like is this: “I have enough, I do enough, I AM enough.” Good to remember.

  1. Rename and reframe.

When faced with stressful situations, our body responds as if we’ll need to spring into action: We breathe faster, our heart beats faster, we flood our cells with adrenaline, and we might even break into a sweat. We’re ready to fight, fly, or freeze.

But researchers have found that we’re not nearly as troubled by our racing heart and other physical sensations—and even more importantly, they don’t seem to have the same negative effect on our health—when the stressful situation is one we’ve chosen, rather than one that’s been forced upon us.

If we welcome the stress—say we’re about to skydive, or take the stage for a performance, or meet our favorite movie star—we respond to it much differently than if we’re about to be led into the court room for sentencing. In other words, it is largely how we label the stressor that determines our experience of it. When we change our mind about stress, we can change our body’s response to it, too.

So, instead of labeling those physical symptoms “anxiety,” “stress,” “nervousness,” or “dread,” try calling them excitement. You’re excited to jump out of the plane, take the stage, or meet Lady Gaga! Of course you are! Now all that heart pounding, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms are leading you somewhere positive, not somewhere dreadful. Just like an athlete stressing her body for better physical performance, we can use stress to make us better at handling stress. (To read more about the benefits of reframing, click here.)

After all, it’s not the stress, it’s how you deal with it.

  1. Hug someone.

This is one of my favorite stress reducers: it’s immediate, it’s non-verbal, it costs nothing—and it reduces stress for two! Unfortunately, it’s not always available or practicable: in traffic, for example. Nevertheless, a hug can often give a stressed-out human of any age an emotional and neurological “reboot.” It’s because human touch is essential to human wellness. Infants fail to thrive if they are not held as much as possible. Children, too, crave hugs. In fact, we all do. Hugging releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, soothes our central nervous system, and boosts immune function. It also works with non-human participants! (To learn more about the healing power of touch, click here.)

  1. Move your body.

Another great way to shed stress quickly is: vigorous exercise! Pound a pillow or a punching bag; sprint down the street; do 10 burpees; run the stadium stairs. Non-vigorous exercise works, too; it just takes a little longer: take a walk, jump on the trampoline, rollerblade at the beach. You get double the benefits if the exercise is one you enjoy and can do with friends. Loralee and I love ballroom dancing. Many of my friends prefer tennis or golf. Moving gets us “out of our heads and into our bodies.” It discharges the stress hormone cortisol so that it doesn’t lead to chronic inflammation. It restores our sense of personal agency by making us active, rather than passive. And it even helps us get a good night’s sleep!

  1. Change your scenery.

Jimmy Buffett sang about “Changes in latitude, changes in attitude.” It was a hit recording about the rejuvenating power of physical relocation—e.g., travel. The benefits come from changing your perspective. (The benefits often include seeing how other people view the world, which helps us to grip less tightly on our own view of it.) In fact, sometimes just getting up in an airplane changes my mind about problems in my life: everything looks so small from the air.

Granted, we can’t go on vacation or even up in a plane every time we’re overwhelmed, but we can change our perspective locally: take a walk in the woods, by a river, in a park, or on the beach. Nature is healing. Spending time in nature has proven to decrease our blood pressure and heart rate, calm anxiety, depression, ADD and ADHD symptoms, boost our immunity, speed healing, and even protect against diseases like breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Nature also increases our immunity, memory, creativity, productivity, happiness levels, and sleep. From the negative ions at the beach (which have a positive effect on health!) to the antimicrobial phytoncides released by trees in the forest, spending time in nature is one of the very best ways to calm yourself down. (To read more about the stress-reducing benefits of spending time in nature, click here.)

Feel better? I’m glad to hear it. Just remember that Cultural Stress is with us 24/7. It’s up to us to take steps to manage it. That’s not a luxury, it’s #ModernWellness AND #ConqueringCulturalStress.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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