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One of the best ways to calm down if you’re already feeling stressed is to stop interacting with the stressor, if possible. Sometimes, even taking a few seconds before you head back into the situation can be enough to help you cool down. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I need to take a 15-minute break before we continue discussing this. This stimulates the release of hormones like adrenaline, which constrict your blood vessels, make your breathing rapid and shallow, and boost your heart rate. Notice each thing that is going on in your body, but try to avoid judging it.
My face feels hot and flushed. My heart is beating very fast. Try to keep your noticing these things as neutral as possible. You may find it difficult to breathe when you’re stressed, but it’s important to focus on taking some long, even breaths. Aim to breathe in for a 4-count if you can. You should feel your belly expand along with your chest as you inhale: this is diaphragmatic breathing.
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Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through your nose or mouth. Aim to exhale for a 4-count if you can. Repeat this process 6-10 times per minute for a few minutes. You may also find it helpful to recite a mantra while you breathe, or count your breaths to keep yourself from getting distracted. A mantra may be a syllable, such as “ohm,” or it may be a phrase, such as “breathing into my body , breathing out release . Using progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, can help release that tension and get you feeling more calm and relaxed.
Find a quiet, comfortable place if you can. If this is not possible, you can still do some PMR techniques. Breathe evenly as you do your PMR groups. Begin with the muscles in your face, as many people carry stress in their face, neck, and shoulder area.
Start by opening your eyes as wide as they will go for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Squeeze your eyes shut tightly for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Give yourself 10 seconds to notice how these areas feel. Purse your lips tightly for 5 seconds, then release.
Smile as wide as you can for 5 seconds, then release. Again, let yourself enjoy the sensation of relaxation for 10 seconds before moving on. Continue to tense muscle groups for 5 seconds and then release the tension. Give yourself a 10-second relaxation break between groups. If you don’t have time for a full PMR release, try to do it with just your facial muscles. You can also try a quick hand massage, since we often carry a lot of tension in our hands. Exercise is a natural mood-booster because it releases endorphins, natural chemicals that make you feel calm and happy.
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Several studies have demonstrated that exercising regularly can make you feel calmer and happier overall. Try exercises such as yoga and tai chi. Their focus on deep breathing, meditation, and gentle physical movement can really help soothe you. Recognize what stress looks like for you. You may exhibit a variety of signs when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
Knowing what to look for will help keep stress from sneaking up on you unawares. Emotional signs can include: teariness, irritability, mood swings, unusual feelings for you, defensiveness, feeling a lack of motivation or the desire to procrastinate, low confidence or low self-esteem, frustration, feeling nervous or jittery, uncharacteristic aggression or anger. Physical signs can include: aches and pains, a lowered immune system, weight or sleep changes, panic attacks, exhaustion or fatigue, and change of sex drive. Behavioral signs can include: forgetfulness, self-neglect, social withdrawal, trouble sleeping, relationship trouble, impaired time-management and self-motivation, and using substances such as alcohol, nicotine, or drugs to help cope. Identify the cause of your stress.
Is your heart pounding because that person just cut you off on the freeway, or is it because of that presentation you have to give to your boss this afternoon? Think for a moment and try to figure out what’s really bothering you. If it helps, you can write various things down on a piece of paper and then rank them. You may feel pressure to perform, meet deadlines, or achieve certain tasks. You may also feel stressed about balancing work and your personal life, or about making major decisions. You may be stressed over your relationships, or you may have problems with your health or finances that stress you out.
You may also be bored or lonely, or have limited relaxation and self-care time. It may be that stress has become so integral to how you envision yourself that you don’t even recognize how tied up you have become. Take a step back and consider how you think about stress. Do you frequently feel stressed out even if the stress always seems temporary? I just live a stressful life, that’s all. This type of thinking can make it seem like there’s nothing you can do to manage your stress.
Do you feel like your stress is others’ fault or responsibility? For example, you might blame the stress about a college essay on the teacher’s strict standards, rather than your procrastination. This can keep you from taking action to reduce your stress by changing your own behavior. Determine if you’re stressing about something that is in the past.
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Sometimes, we can get caught up in obsessing over the past to the point that it stresses us out in the present. You can’t change the past, but you can respond to the present and prepare for the future. Instead, if you catch yourself stressing about something that has already happened, take a moment to remind yourself that you cannot change the past. However, you can learn and grow from it, and you can use its lessons to do better in the future. Why do my partners always break up with me? Try thinking about your past in a more productive way. For example, you could examine your past relationships for trends, such as the type of person you generally date, your communication styles, or events that surrounded each breakup.
You may find patterns that help you understand what’s going on and make new plans for future relationships. You also avoid essentializing about yourself, which will help you feel motivated to make any changes you need. Determine whether you’re stressed about the future. We all worry about our futures at some point. However, we can get so wrapped up in anticipating the future that we stress out and forget to live in the present. This type of thinking isn’t helpful, but you can learn to change it.
One way to challenge this is to imagine the absolute worst thing that could actually happen. For example, in the above scenario, the worst thing might be that you do indeed fail out of that college and have to move back in with mom and dad. Then, consider whether you could handle it. Finally, consider the real likelihood that this will occur. For example, if you fail the exam, you might fail the course — or you might be able to retake the exam, or bring up your grade for extra credit. You should always try to make plans and decisions when you’re calm and relaxed. If you’re feeling stressed or angry, that could impair your judgment and lead you to make rash or unhelpful decisions.
Visualize relaxing things, such as a deserted island or a country road. Close your eyes and try to picture even minor details about the imaginary place, and you can put yourself in that situation instead of the one you’re in. Get away from the cause of the stress. If you can physically escape the stress trigger, do so. Leave the room or pull off the road for a moment to put things in perspective.
Acknowledge that anxiety is not always bad. Sometimes, anxiety or stress can be a clue that you’re considering a significant or even unhelpful decision. For example, you might feel stressed about selling all of your belongings, buying a school bus , and living a nomadic life in the desert. In general, you have two responses when you face stress: you can choose to change either the situation or your response to it. Even if you’re powerless to change the source of your stress, you have the power to choose how you’ll respond to it. Some stressors can’t be avoided, but you can alter your approach to them and thus change the situation. However, these don’t have to be stressful if you alter your approach, such as seeking compromise or expressing your feelings directly instead of using passive-aggression.
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Sometimes you can change your approach or behaviors to reduce stress, even if you can’t change the situation. For example, if you frequently find yourself stressed by rush-hour traffic, you can’t change that: you have to get to work, and rush-hour traffic is a worldwide problem. However, you could alter your approach to this stressor by taking public transit to work, finding a different route home, or leaving a little earlier or later in the day. Some things you simply cannot change.
You cannot change or control others’ feelings, actions, or reactions. You can’t change the fact that it rained on your wedding day, or that your boss is a selfish jerk no matter how hard you try to be a good communicator. However, you can accept these as things beyond your control and let go of your need to control them. You can also view them as learning experiences from which you can grow. Sometimes you can resolve a stressful situation right away with one action, but often you’ll need several steps, perhaps over a long period. Write out a plan with attainable goals and a timeline for reaching those goals. Additionally, many stressful situations are avoidable.
If you continue to experience stress because no matter how hard you try you can’t take the steps quickly enough, you probably haven’t set realistic goals. In a culture that values a can-do attitude, it can be hard to accept that sometimes you can’t do something, at least not within a given period of time. Take one step at a time. A complex problem can be overwhelming, even when you’ve got your plan mapped out, but remember: the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just focus on one small goal at a time. Show yourself patience and kindness as you enact your plans. Procrastination often results from fear and anxiety, which can stop us dead in our tracks.
Instead, aim for your personal best and avoid making assumptions about yourself based on outcomes. These insidious thoughts can encourage you to beat yourself up over things that are out of your control. A good student should never make mistakes. However, that is an unrealistic standard that no one can meet. I can perform to my best ability and honor my effort, even when I make mistakes.
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You can’t eliminate all stress from your life, and in fact, you wouldn’t want to. Stress can be a great motivator. It can even be a sign that you’re deeply invested in what you’re doing or about to do. Mindfulness techniques can help you notice when you experience stressful sensations and acknowledge those feelings without judging them. This will help you avoid focusing too much on the stress.
Take time to really see the raisin, as though you were an explorer from another world whose first contact with Earth is this remarkable wrinkled thing. Notice its colors, its shape, its textures. Hold the raisin to your nose and take a few deep breaths. Enjoy any aroma that you smell. Try to describe it to yourself. You may even find that certain raisins smell different than others! Place the raisin on your tongue.