We all have days when we feel like we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. But sometimes it isn’t about your mood, it’s more about a feeling of restlessness and unease, and you are left wondering…how can you feel calmer? Why there are some days when you start off feeling like you just can’t be calm? Of course, there are circumstances that make it totally reasonable to be feeling more anxious or unsettled. When things have gotten more complicated and chaotic, it can be much more difficult to feel a sense of calm.
The good news is that there are things you can do each day to get yourself on the right side of calm. The therapists at Cohesive Therapy NYC have put together a few simple tips on how to feel calmer.
1. Breathe Deeply
Many people are shallow breathers, meaning they take small, short breaths. But did you know shallow breathing is actually part of the “fight or flight” response? It’s an evolutionary adaptation designed to keep us safe from danger. It is managed by a part of our brain called the amygdalae. The amygdalae are the body’s “alarm system”. When activated, it sends signals to our body to prepare for “fight or flight”.
When this happens, you may notice that your heartbeat speeds up, your muscles tense, and your breath becomes more shallow. This is your brain’s way of protecting you from a perceived threat. It causes you to breathe faster in order to get more oxygen to prepare. The problem is, however, that our brains don’t always recognize real danger (that tiger) from perceived danger (that stack of bills mounting up). Sometimes it can be something as simple as a thought that can cause this anxiety response in your body to activate.
Breathing exercises can have an incredibly calming effect. This technique is sending a signal to your brain that there is no threat and that you are safe. This happens when the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation mode) in your body becomes engaged. Breathing exercise can help you to do that.
Here’s how to start your deep breathing exercise:
- First, inhale through your nose, take a nice deep breath and… hold it, hold it, hold it for a count of three. It sometimes makes it easier to pretend that you have a balloon in your belly that you are trying to fill with air to direct the air into your diaphragm.
- Exhale a nice, long, and controlled exhale through your mouth. Allow the air to flow slowly and comfortably (not forced) out of your body. You don’t need to “empty” out your belly of the air. Just let your body tell you when you have comfortably let the air out.
- Give yourself a moment to take notice of any tension that is leaving your body. Notice how much calmer your body may already be feeling as a result of this practice. For some of us, this comes naturally, for others, more practice will bring the desired results.
Many people scoff at the idea that breathing deeply and slowly will really change how they are feeling. While it is true that taking deep belly breaths won’t change the circumstances that are causing you to feel unease, it can help you to feel calmer and allow you to then think clearer and cope with the issues at hand.
2. Focus on the Here and Now
When we are feeling anxious, it is hard to block thoughts about the future and things you are worried about. The “what ifs” that replay in our minds can have a profound impact on how we feel and our ability to manage the rest of the day. Mindfulness does not mean that you can control your thoughts or even clear your mind, but rather, a basic principle of mindfulness is to focus on the present, bringing awareness to the sensations of the “here and now”, and return our attention to what is happening in the moment.
Try sitting in a chair in a comfortable position, placing your hands on your legs and your feet firmly on the floor. Do a quick body scan and focus on a few specific body parts, such your feet. Notice the sensations of the fabric touching your feet, the connection between the bottoms of your feet and the floor, the feeling of the ground supporting you. Notice how you start to feel calmer already? Keep going.
Wiggle your toes around, push your heels into the floor, and really focus on what this feels like for a few moments. Bringing your attention to something as simple as the feelings in your feet will help to ground you, return you to the present moment, and calm your mind so that you feel better equipped to handle your day.
3. Practicing Gratitude by Focusing on the Positive Things in Your Life
Practicing gratitude is about the small, everyday things that we often overlook, but the consistent practice of gratitude can become a habit that can help counteract depression and anxiety.
Every day, take a few minutes to think about three things that you are grateful for. They can be small, like that parking spot in front of the always-busy post office you got this morning, waking up feeling well-rested or even being able to take a break for lunch and really being able to savor your food.
Taking notice of the small things during your day that usually go unappreciated will naturally calm you down and give you a different perspective on things. And, doing this exercise day after day will train your brain to be more positive and more aware of the things that usually go unnoticed. This will help you to feel calmer overall.
Have you tried these tips in the past but are still dealing with persistent anxiety and worry or would like to learn more? Therapy can help you uncover the root cause of your anxiety and provide you with more tools for coping.