We all have our fair share of moments when we feel more anxious, stressed, and worried than usual. When these negative thoughts enter your brain, it’s easy to give in and allow them to take over. It’s up to you to keep them from spiraling out of control. Good news: That’s totally doable!
Try these 18 tricks to find some calm right here, right now.
Focusing on your breath is one of the most effective ways to slow your racing heart and make yourself feel calmer. Research has shown that slow, deep breathing techniques can lead to feelings of comfort and relaxation, make you feel more alert, and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and anger.
There are several deep breathing techniques you can try. One popular option is box breathing, also called four-square breathing. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet space.
- Slowly exhale.
- Slowly inhale while counting to four.
- Hold your breath for a slow count of four.
- Slowly exhale for a count of four.
- Hold your breath for four counts before repeating.
Intense feelings of anxiety and stress that come on quickly often stem from irrational thoughts. You might start to focus on only the worst possible outcome or spiral into a chorus of what-ifs that play into your deepest fears.
In these moments, try to talk yourself out of it by using logic to challenge your anxiety. Ask yourself questions like these:
- What’s the evidence that this is true?
- What’s the probability that what I’m worried about will actually happen? What’s the probability that it won’t happen?
- How will worrying about this help me?
- How would I handle the worst thing that could happen?
- What would I say to a friend worrying about this right now?
Once you answer these questions, you can start to think more positively and coach yourself through any lingering negative feelings.
Exercise is a great way to relax and calm your mind, and you don’t need to do a grueling HIIT workout to enjoy those benefits. Even just taking a walk or doing some yoga can work.
Exercise helps you nix negative thoughts and encourages your body to release endorphins that boost your mood and make you feel good. Research suggests that physical activity can protect people from developing some mental health conditions and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Regular exercise can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety over time, but a quick walk outside or a run on the treadmill can also lift your spirits in the moment.
It sounds odd, but gum might help you chase away those anxious vibes.
A small 2009 study suggested that chewing gum can improve mood and reduce anxiety. This is likely because the act of chewing gum stimulates blood flow in your brain. The effects can be felt immediately and can help in the long term as well.
The people in the study who chewed gum also felt more alert and did better at multitasking than those who didn’t chew gum. Who knew a tiny stick of gum could have so much power?
If you have a bathtub at home, fill it up, dim the lights, and get in for a soak. Research suggests that people who bathe in hot water for even just 10 minutes each day have better mental and emotional health.
Warm water can also ease any sore and aching muscles (and it just feels good even if you aren’t sore), which can help relieve anxiety and make you feel more calm both physically and emotionally.
A 2010 study found that taking a bath on a regular basis can help you sleep better, which might help you feel more calm in the long term as well.
Research from 2002 suggests that getting some sun can increase the release of serotonin in your brain, which can improve your mood and leave you feeling more at peace (just swipe on the sunscreen before going out).
A 2020 research review found that spending just 10 minutes outside can improve not only your mood but also your focus, blood pressure, and heart rate. And you don’t even need the sun — being surrounded by nature is soothing and calming, even on a cloudy day.
Writing out all your anxious and worried thoughts can leave you feeling like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Journaling helps you process emotions in a healthy way and gives you a better understanding of what you’re worried about (that goes back to confronting your fears). It can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety.
In a small 2009 study, college students who did expressive writing experienced less depression, anxiety, and stress after 2 months than students who were asked to write without expressing emotion or opinions.
Think about how you’re sitting — chances are good that you’re slouching. Take a moment to drop your shoulders from that uptight position around your ears and sit up straight, and you’ll find yourself feeling a bit more centered.
A study from 2009 found that students who sat upright were more likely to believe positive things about themselves than students who slouched. Sitting up straight can boost confidence, improve energy levels, and help relieve depression.
Sitting up straight and tall can also make it easier for you to take deep, slow breaths, which can make you feel calmer. Dropping your shoulders will leave you feeling instantly relaxed, since it soothes tense muscles.
A 2013 study found that listening to music before a stressful situation can make it easier for your nervous system to relax once the situation is over, which basically means it helps you control your levels of stress and anxiety, even in tough situations.
Calming music (such as classical music) or soothing sounds (such as crashing waves) can also help keep your cortisol levels down and relax your mind. If you’re looking for instant relief, listening to something soothing might be the answer.
Taking a moment to focus on what you’re grateful for can help you feel less anxious and depressed almost immediately. Research suggests that the best way to do this is to write a list of things you’re thankful for and then read it back to yourself.
This helps you focus on the positive aspects of your life rather than the negative, effectively pushing away the bad stuff and helping you calm down.
When we feel anxious, our pupils dilate and our faces tense up. Close your eyes and leave them closed for a few moments. Focus on completely relaxing your facial muscles. This simple exercise can eliminate that tension and bring you back to a state of calm.
There’s a scientific reason therapy animals are a thing (and no, it’s not an excuse for folks to fly with their pets for free). A 2002 study found that people who own pets have overall lower heart rates and blood pressure levels and are able to better manage stressful situations.
Pets can also improve your mood and reduce stress. According to a 2019 study, interacting with your pet for just 10 minutes can lead to a significant reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.
To quickly relieve feelings of anxiety, try progressive muscle relaxation: Gradually tense up different muscle groups and then relax them. It’s best to start with your toes and work your way up.
Researchers believe that tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups can help boost our awareness of our bodies and our tense areas, leaving us feeling more relaxed.
Utter relaxation is something you can actually practice. Autogenic training is when you sit or lie in a comfortable position and let your muscles go completely limp.
While you melt like a stick of butter, repeat short phrases in your mind, like “My arms are heavy” or “I’m so heavy I’m melting into the floor.” Channel intense feelings of heaviness, warmth, coolness, and calm as you relax.
Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes of relaxation before resuming your day or going to bed. Watch your negative feelings drift away.
Laughter truly is the best medicine sometimes — but it has to be real. One 2017 study found that laughing regularly can lead to a decrease in blood pressure, which can make you feel more calm over time.
Laughter can also relieve anxiety and boost positive feelings. It even has a name: laughter therapy.
If you’re near fresh flowers, take a whiff and prepare to feel more calm. A 2015 study found that people who touched and smelled plants reported feeling less stressed and anxious. Bonus points if the scent is one you love.
No flowers nearby? Try breathing in a calming essential oil, like lavender. A 2017 research review suggested that lavender essential oil could be effective in treating anxiety disorders and might also improve sleep for some people.
Mantras are another way to focus on more logical thoughts and help us step away from our anxiety and into a calmer headspace. A 2015 study found that silently repeating a single word to yourself quiets the same part of your brain that makes your mind wander.
You can also repeat a calming phrase, such as “How important is this?” or “I can overcome anything,” to focus more on confronting that anxiety.
You don’t need to be an expert who meditates every day to feel the soothing effects of the practice. A 2018 study found that even just one hour-long meditation session can significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress.
Download an app like Headspace or Calm so you can meditate in the comfort of your home. Find a quiet space and sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed to really feel calmer.
The above tips are great when you need to calm down fast, but they aren’t long-term solutions for intense feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress.
In some cases, it may be best to seek help from a professional to learn how to prevent and manage these feelings. If left untreated, they can lead to more serious mental health issues.
Talk to a doctor if any of these things are true for you:
- You feel like your anxiety is interfering with your daily life on a regular basis.
- You feel like you have no control over your anxiety (in other words, none of the above tips leave you feeling more calm).
- You’ve turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with your anxiety.
- You’re experiencing physical problems like stomach pain or a racing heart.
- You’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors (you can get immediate help by calling 911 or your local emergency number).