5 Science-Backed Ways to Calm Down Fast
We bet you haven't tried these tricks.
Stress. It's difficult to manage, painful to experience, even harmful to your health—and studies show it's more prevalent than ever. "Americans have been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, [and] the external factors [they] have listed in previous years as significant sources of stress remain present and problematic," reports the American Psychological Association (APA), which has published an annual Stress in America survey since 2007. "These compounding stressors are having real consequences on our minds and bodies."
With so much fear, anxiety, and stress in our lives, being able to calm ourselves down as quickly as possible when we're feeling upset is a valuable skill. Read on for five fast de-stressing techniques you can add to your emotional toolbox.
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Tap your fingers
While activities like yoga are well known for helping people to relax, it's not always convenient for us to take a break from what we're doing and get into a downward dog pose.
That's why a technique called "tapping" can be helpful; you can do it on your own almost anywhere by using your fingertips to tap on specific areas of your body.
"Sometimes described as 'acupuncture without needles,' Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) helps those who practice it move stagnant energy throughout the body by tapping on acupressure points, and is done in combination with reciting phrases that shift anxious emotions to more calming thoughts [and activating] the parasympathetic nervous system, which is key to relaxation," says Bridget Botelho, certified Integrative Health Practitioner (IHP) and founder of Immune Intuition.
Hear us out on this one. This isn't about plastering on a fake smile and pretending everything is okay—it's about plastering on a fake smile and actually feeling better.
Part of a technique practiced in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), forcing yourself to smile sends a calming message to your brain.
"When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress," reports SCL Health, explaining that this will activate other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins: "The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever, whereas the serotonin is an antidepressant," they explain.
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Listen to "binaural beats"
Binaural beats "is a type of sound therapy in which the listener hears two slightly different audio frequencies, which creates an auditory illusion and sensing of a frequency that may have a relaxing effect," explains Botelho.
Healthline reports that "Binaural beats are claimed to induce the same mental state associated with a meditation practice, but much more quickly" and may help people relax, decrease their stress and anxiety, and manage their pain.
"The research is definitely mixed on the usage of binaural beats, but I find it worth mentioning for anyone who is interested in exploring different types of music that could help create a sense of calm," says Botelho. "I personally find binaural beats to be very relaxing, like music you would find at a spa, and who doesn't love that?"
Create a routine
"There are so many practices that can help reduce stress, but don't overlook the power of creating a solid and supportive daily routine," advises Botelho. "I work with clients to create a routine and flow to their day and throughout their week, which can help the body feel stable and limit overwhelm."
This approach requires more preparation than, say, forcing yourself to smile during a stressful time. But creating a structure and schedule for your daily life might be worth your while. "A lack of structure and routine can actually exacerbate feelings of distress and make you pay more attention to the source of your problems," according to Verywell Health.
Bothelho's best tip for starting and implementing a routine? "Work toward having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, and incorporate a 10-20-minute morning walk outside to set your body's circadian clock for the day," she says. "Also be mindful of blue-light exposure, and limit screen time one to two hours before bed."
Okay, you were breathing anyway. But why not try breathing in a specific way that's been shown to reduce stress? "Studies have found that simple practices like breathing exercises are effective in reducing stress in everyday situations like the experience of test anxiety, sometimes to a greater degree than more complex stress management techniques," reports Verywell Mind.
Lots of different breathing exercises can help you calm down, including a simple technique is known as box breathing. Melissa Young, MD, tells the Cleveland Clinic that box breathing is easy to learn and to remember. "Box breathing's simplicity is its greatest strength," she says. "When you start out with other forms of breathwork, you can almost get more anxious by overthinking it. But this is just very simple breathing and counting."
Want to try it? Just exhale slowly until your lungs are completely empty. Then breathe in for a slow count of four, hold for four beats, breathe out for a count of four, hold for four, breathe in for four—and repeat the cycle several times, until you begin to feel better.
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