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Need To Calm Down Quickly? These 11 Techniques Actually Work.

Everyone gets frazzled.

We all have moments when we feel like we can’t settle down or think clearly. When stressors pile up on us throughout the day and, in an instant, we can’t take it anymore.

These are the moments we may fly off the handle, yell, or say something we regret. Or maybe we retreat entirely and shut down. 

So what do you do when you’ve reached your capacity and still have to function? How do you calm down quickly when you need to keep pushing forward?

a man sits in a char peacefully
how to calm down quickly

11 Techniques for In-The-Moment Stress Relief

You’re not here for a personal history, but let me just say that my bonafides on stress and anxiety are solid in that I have a lot of it and a history of managing it terribly. 

Getting off the roller coaster and developing the capacity for emotional regulation in the face of a chaotic world takes some practice. (And patience.)

There are lifestyle changes you can make to manage stress levels writ large, but you’re not here for that. 

You want to know what you can do in the moment when you’re about to lose it. 

These following strategies are designed to help you regain composure quickly and bring your nervous system back into equilibrium. 

They aren’t magic buttons, but they offer relief. 

1. Do Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are one of the best ways to help reduce stress by calming your nervous system and lowering cortisol levels. 

When you take slow, deep breaths, it signals to your body that it’s time to relax, which can make you feel more in control and less anxious. 

One effective exercise is the 4-7-8 technique. It goes like this. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds. 

Doing this a few times can help you feel more relaxed and centered quickly.

Here is a video tutorial to show you how to do this technique:

2. Engage the Senses (Grounding Technique)

This technique is called the “5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.” It involves using your five senses to help bring you back to the present moment and calm down. When you feel overwhelmed by emotions, stop and identify:

  • 5 things you can see,
  • 4 things you can touch,
  • 3 things you can hear,
  • 2 things you can smell,
  • 1 thing you can taste.

This method can help reduce stress and panic by focusing your attention on your surroundings instead of your anxiety and emotional state. It’s a way to quickly step out of the whirlwind. 

3. Take a Short Walk

Studies have noted the multiple benefits of walking for stress relief. 

Walking releases endorphins (natural painkillers and mood boosters), lowers stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and provides a much needed mental break.

If you can step away from a stressful moment for five minutes and talk a walk outside, give it a try! 

4. Relax Your Muscles

Progressive muscle relaxation can quickly help reduce stress. It’s relatively easy to do, but this one where you’ll need to step away for a moment to implement it. 

The basic premise goes like this. You tense each muscle group for a few seconds and then release. Start from your toes and work your way up to your neck and head.

There are multiple guided tutorials on YouTube you can follow along with, like this one:

5. Try Cognitive Reframing Techniques

Cognitive reframing is a technique where you change the way you think about a stressful situation to feel less stressed. (Easier said than done, I know.)

Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, you try to see the situation from a different, more positive perspective. 

For example, if you’re stuck in traffic and about to freak out, you can reframe it by thinking, “This is a good opportunity to listen to my favorite podcast or music.” 

By changing your thoughts, you can change how you feel, making the situation less stressful and more manageable.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into cognitive reframing and all the ways our brains can run amuck, check out these articles. 

6. Write it Out

If you’re overwhelmed and ready to snap, writing is another constructive tool in your toolbox.

Writing it down can help you process in-the-moment stress by allowing you to express and organize your thoughts and feelings. 

When you write about what’s stressing you out, it can help you see the situation more clearly and identify what’s really bothering you. 

This process can provide a sense of relief, as it gets the worries out of your head and onto paper. It’s cathartic. 

7. Occupy Your Mind By Keeping Your Hands Busy

Some people find it helpful to distract their minds by engaging their hands with activities like knitting or doodling. This can be a method of mindfulness, allowing stressful thoughts to pass.

I used to do this with paint-by-sticker books or cleaning the house. 

They say if you work with your mind to rest with your hands. This is true of stress as well. I find this strategy particularly helpful if I’m caught up in rumination or stressed by a situation without an immediate solution. 

8. Try a RAIN Meditation

The RAIN meditation method is another mindfulness-based strategy you can use to calm down quickly in a tense situation. 

RAIN stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture.

  • Recognize what’s happening: Notice the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are present.
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is: Instead of trying to fix or avoid it, give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling.
  • Investigate with kindness: Explore your emotions with curiosity. Ask yourself why you feel this way and where these feelings are coming from.
  • Nurture yourself with compassion: Offer yourself kindness and understanding, just as you would to a friend.

For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you might recognize that your heart is racing, allow the anxiety to be there without judgment, investigate the underlying cause (maybe you’re worried about an upcoming event), and then nurture yourself by saying something comforting, like “It’s okay to feel this way. I’m doing my best.” 

If you’d like some guidance with this process, try this meditation led by Tara Brach.

9. Put on Relaxing Music

If it’s available to you, toss on headphones and put on relaxing music. 

Relaxing music can help deflate in-the-moment stress by slowing down your heart rate and breathing, which signals to your body that it’s time to calm down. 

Choose something low temp and instrumental like classic, ambient, or jazz.

Are you going to hypnotize yourself into a blissfully peaceful state by putting on some Chopin? Probably not, but you can settle your body enough to address your emotions with a clear head.

10. Do Some Light Stretching

Stretching promotes stress relief by releasing muscle tension, which helps alleviate physical stress and provides a sense of relief and lightness. 

This is why yoga can be so good for emotional health. 

One of the biggest benefits of stretching is that It triggers the relaxation response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting the “fight-or-flight” response that has you wound up. 

Stretching also increases circulation, improving blood flow and delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles. 

Like walking, it reduces stress hormones by releasing endorphins and lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels. 

A woman stretches in a side lunge
stretching for stress relief

11. Activate Pressure Points for Stress Relief

Pressure points are specific areas on the body that can be stimulated to promote relaxation and alleviate stress. 

By applying firm but gentle pressure or massaging these points, you can activate the body’s natural ability to release tension.

There are a few connected specifically to stress relief. Get ready for some quirky names. 

The pressure points you’ll want to familiarize yourself with are:

  • Union Valley (LI-4)
  • Heavenly Pillar
  • Inner Gate (P-6)
  • Great Rushing (LV-3)
  • Shoulder Well (GB-21)

The pressure point I find most accessible is the Union Valley pressure point which is located between the thumb and index finger. 

To activate it, squeeze the fleshy area between the thumb and index finger using the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Apply firm but gentle pressure and massage in a circular motion for 1-2 minutes.

It looks like this:

What if it doesn’t work?

Okay, so what do you do if you try all of this and you still can’t settle down? This happens sometimes. The emotions are too big, and you can’t find an off-switch. 

It will pass. 

Nothing lasts forever, including this moment of stress and anger. I talk about a technique called urge surfing in the context of dealing with alcohol cravings, but the principles can be applied to anger, too. 

Ride the wave and let it pass. Observe the emotion and how it is presented in the body like a curious observer until it dissipates. 

And if you find yourself dealing with multiple episodes of anger and overwhelm, that can be a sign to get additional help and support (again, I’ve been there). 

What you don’t want to do is give up on yourself and resort to chemically induced off-switches like drugs and alcohol to manage hard feelings

That is a self-reinforcing cycle that will only exacerbate and multiply your problems. 

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