One of the most useful techniques to quickly calm yourself is to exhale deeply. This simple action can soothe the body’s alarm, the sympathetic nervous system, and activate the all-clear signal, the parasympathetic nervous system. A deep exhalation leaves you calmer and thinking more clearly. Use the muscles around your lungs to push the air all the way out of your lungs. Take a moment and try this now.
You can make your deep breaths even more powerful by focusing your attention on your heart, while breathing, and bringing to mind a soothing visualization (e.g., your favorite vacation, connecting with a loved one, or cuddling with your pet). Doing this for even 30 seconds can help you shift gears and come back refreshed, ready for the challenge at hand. It’s best to practice this calming visualization during a time when you aren’t stressed, and rehearse it regularly. This can lower your stress level in the first place, and can help the visualization be more readily accessible when needed.
Another calming strategy is to smile. The body seems to interpret a smile as a safety signal, so a soft smile to yourself can be soothing. Don’t invalidate your distress by plastering on a cheesy grin. Rather, imagine that you are offering a compassionate smile to a struggling friend. Let your eyes soften, which relaxes your whole face and invites a slight smile to arise.
Finally, if you have the opportunity, try to move when you are stressed. If possible, get up from your desk and walk, even if it’s just to the bathroom and back. Or try stretching, preferably while standing up for a moment. Taking regular movement breaks can also prevent stress from building up.
The hardest part of doing these strategies is remembering! Use post-it notes, photos, and phone or computer reminders to help you establish these new stress-reducing habits.