We’ve all been there...You feel your heart start to pound. You notice your jaw clenching. You can’t sit still or focus. You think you might burst into tears at any moment. However the sensations flooding through your body present themselves or what thoughts are racing through your mind, the result is the same: you’re overwhelmed. At times like this, it can be difficult to find the tools that could possibly help you to calm yourself.
One way to help you figure out what you need to feel calmer is listening to your body ahead of time.
Use Your Five Senses
I usually ask clients what sense(s) they respond to the most (or best). While there are many traditional go-to’s like diffusing lavender oil or white noise machines, those items that work perfectly for some, may trigger others. So narrowing down what senses you respond to positively, or negatively is helpful for both your therapist and yourself.
When I am stressed or upset, I tend to feel the most calmed by my sense of smell and my sense of touch. To help find what works for you go with what might be able to pull you out of the intense feelings you are having. The most important part is that you are experimenting to find out the most effective tools for you personally, and understanding that sense for soothing might vary depending on the items or tools you have available to you and how anxious/stressed you are at the time. It is not an exact science and what works for one person may not be the same for you.
Think about the scents, sounds and feelings that bring you a sense of peace and plan to try them out the next time the swells of anxiety or other intense feelings begin to wash over you. This may take some time to find the right fit, but don’t be discouraged, keep trying. You might just find out more about yourself, or even stumble upon a new favorite “treat yourself” item.
Here are some tools and tasks for each sense that can help you center and calm:
Smell -- room spray, candle, essential oil, fresh flowers, coffee/tea, cooking, baking, go outside and get fresh air (take a hike by the ocean, garden, or forest)
Touch -- hold/squeeze something malleable in your hands, feel your favorite sweatshirt/sweater, blanket, give yourself a massage, splash cool water (on face, arms, or take a refreshing shower)
Sight -- focus on neutral objects in the room, go outside, go to a museum/art gallery, visualize a calm, safe place/person
Sound -- put on your favorite music, new podcast, white noise app, guided meditation, or talk on the phone to someone you enjoy listening to
Taste -- sip your favorite coffee/tea, eat something sweet/savory-- slowly and mindfully, or put a breath mint/gum in your mouth and focus on it.
Another path to calming down is practicing having a different perspective when stressful things happen.
Acknowledgement vs. Reaction
One of the ways that we increase our stress is the way that we respond to what is going on around us. If you have a strong negative reaction to something, it is likely that you are going to be more upset. Acknowledgement is different because it comes from a more neutral place. Positive affirmations or other types of positive thinking are great, but you are not always in a headspace where you can be positive and practice those steps.
I encourage my clients to start practicing acknowledgement with smaller situations planned out ahead of time, that they imagine they would have a somewhat strong reaction to. It’s a lot harder to practice this with something that you have a very strong reaction to, especially if something happens unexpectedly.
Here are some ways to practice acknowledgement:
Traffic -- LA is bound to give you plenty of opportunities to practice this! I recommend to start trying this out when you are not in a rush to get somewhere so it is easier to try to think neutral thoughts about how you are stuck in traffic. Find the ways to woosah your way through the road rage.
Sleep -- Making assumptions and futurizing about how your day is going to go or trying to anticipate how you are going to feel when you don’t sleep well can add to your stress. Try to start practicing this when you only have had a somewhat bad night of sleeping and aren’t completely exhausted. Don’t put yourself in a state of sleep deprivation, but see how you react to things when you’re tired and try to curb negative reactions and route them to positive solutions.
Feelings -- Take a feeling when it is mild and see if you can just report on it like the weather. “I am feeling a little depressed this morning.” “I notice I am getting annoyed easily at people today.” It becomes easier to make choices about how to calm down when you can even just acknowledge your feelings for what they are, with little or no self-judgment.
Whether you are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or triggered by a past trauma, taking action to calm yourself can help you to feel better. Actions like the ones listed above allow you to feel like you have options. When you feel trapped in your feelings with no way out, that can intensify what you are feeling. You might also feel powerless to change how you are feeling. Trying different ways to practice managing your feelings when they are less intense gives you a sense of power back.
And you don’t have to self calm alone.
Talking to someone can allow you discover the tools you need to calm yourself in stressful situations. Individual therapy can help you to develop a self-care practice that gives you what you need to feel calmer and grounded. Click here to schedule your free consultation.