What are the best ways to calm down?
You know, like when someone has pushed your buttons?
Or when you’re upset and feel like your head’s gonna explode?
Your first impulse is to punch someone, sob in a corner or run away.
But you don’t wanna get in trouble; you have to give an important presentation and take care of your family. You can’t just throw a tantrum because people are counting on you.
Wouldn’t it be perfect if you could turn off pesky emotional reactions? One flick of a switch and poof! Your anger, frustration, sadness and guilt vanish. You’d move on and no one would get hurt.
Of course, that’s not how it works. Why is it such a challenge to calm down when you’re feeling intense negative emotions? And what are quick ways to calm down?
Psst… if you’re in a hurry and just want to know the 10 ways to calm down, download the cheatsheet below (no email sign-up required)!
Why Controlling Intense Negative Emotions is a Challenge
Until now, intense negative emotions controlled you. You felt the anger rising to your head, but couldn’t stop it. Your partner’s bitter remark instantly crushed you. Your frustration paralyzed you.
Feeling powerless is the worst thing ever. Not to mention the consequences.
Let’s break down the process.
When you get triggered, it’s easy to blame others or the situation. That’s how we’re used to functioning; we look outwards for the culprit:
It’s her fault!
It’s not my day.
Now, instead of pointing your finger at something or someone else, I’d like for you to point your finger at yourself.
Yep, you read that right: blame yourself. It might sound harsh, but if you want to be in control of your life (and I know you do), you gotta stop blaming others and take responsibility for your reactions.
You won’t always get your way, but you can choose how to react. In doing so, you navigate your ship instead of letting the waters smash it.
Have you heard of the fight or flight response?
The fight or flight response serves to ensure our survival. Imagine a tiger pouncing at you. Automatically, your heart rate increases and your muscles become tense. These physical reactions prepare you to attack or flee.
Even though most of us are no longer fending for ourselves in the wild, the fight or flight response is still active. When your sense of self gets threatened, physically or emotionally, your inner critic uses the fight or flight response to protect you. Emotionally speaking, the inner critic uses fear to make you take action to ensure you’re loved, accepted and respected.
So, for example, you fear being abandoned and your partner forgot about your special night out. You flee the confrontation and binge on chips.
Or let’s say that you fear deep down that no one respects you. When someone cuts in front of you, you instinctively “attack” by blaming or retorting sarcastically.
When you let the inner critic dictate your behavior, it makes everyone miserable, especially yourself.
Late to a meeting? The inner critic barks: You idiot! What if you get fired?
Your partner’s bitter remark? The inner critic snaps, How could you let them speak to you like that?
Feeling defeated about your project? Give up now before you fail and make a fool of yourself.
In the above 3 cases, the inner critic smacks you in the face with the fear of not being good enough. It criticizes you, hoping to jolt you into action. Action that guarantees your well-being.
That way, the inner critic assumes, you’ll get to future meetings on time, preserve your dignity in your relationship and avoid others’ criticism.
Unbelievable, right? Alas, the inner critic doesn’t always know best.
Before you get discouraged, I want you to know that you DO have a choice.
You can get into the driver’s seat.
You don’t have to react out of fear by default.
How do you stop reacting out of fear?
Ideally, you become self-aware enough to stop the fear-based reactions in their tracks. Start by catching yourself in the default reaction. Which situations trigger you? What are you thinking and feeling? Get my worksheet My Negative Thought Journal to help you become more self-aware.
Once you know your triggers and reactions, you’re well equipped. You still might not be able to stop your knee-jerk reactions, but that’s ok. The monumental difference is that you’re aware of them as they’re happening.
It’s also possible that you become aware of a default reaction after the fact. That’s ok, too. Simply being aware of your fear-based reactions is enough to begin to take control of your life. The more you practice self-awareness, the more your fear-based reactions loosen their hold on you.
But what if your anger, fear or frustration takes over?
What if, despite your best efforts, you get swept away in a storm of negative emotions?
I hear you.
In the heat of the moment, the best thing to do is to accept the situation and calm down. You don’t want to do something you’d regret later. When intense negative emotions are in your face, life seems like an emergency. You need to do something, anything, to make things right again.
However, we both know that taking action when your mind isn’t calm is catastrophic. When we’re stressed, we tend to say or do things that worsen the situation. After you calm down, you can more clearly reflect and sharpen your self-awareness.
Learning how to calm down during a fear-based reaction empowers you. You decondition yourself from living in fear. The next time around, you’ll be able to delay the reaction and feel more in control of your life.
Use these 10 ways to calm down intense negative emotions and take back the reins. Then, check out this article to overcome your negative emotions by getting to the root of them.
Ways to Calm Down Via Grounding Exercises
Grounding exercises are surprisingly simple, yet effective. You can do them anywhere, anytime. Grounding exercises help you take your attention off of what’s bothering you and calm down in as little as 2 minutes. As a result, you find your “ground” and feel more stable.
- Focus on your belly. If possible, place your hands on your belly to help you focus. Pay attention to how it inflates and deflates with air. Are your breaths shallow or deep? Breathe deeply. Keep focusing on your belly till you feel calmer.
- Imagine roots growing out of your feet. Can you feel your feet taking hold in the earth beneath you? Instead of getting swept away in negative emotions, ground yourself through visualization. Breathe deeply. If you like, imagine energy flowing down to your feet as you exhale.
- Pay attention to your body’s contact with the floor or chair. Focus on how the chair feels against your back. Be mindful of the hardness of the floor under your feet. Sound silly? Yet it works. Focusing on your body and its contact to objects anchors you while your emotions run amok. This too shall pass.
Ways to Calm Down Via Movement
Get your body moving to break the momentum of negative emotions. Your world could be shattering, but reassure yourself that you are allowed some space. Your inner critic will disagree, but it’s the best thing you can do.
- Leave the room. Fighting negative emotions is as useless as yelling, Stop! at a crashing tsunami. As inopportune as it may be, leaving the room keeps you from hurting others or getting hurt yourself. You create much-needed space to calm down instead of stewing in anger.
- Run. How far do you need to run (or walk) till your frustration disappears? Deliberately follow the rush of your emotions by sprinting it out. That way, the energy doesn’t get pent up or directed in a harmful way.
- Do housework. It occupies your mind and puts the energy of negative emotions to use. Folding laundry or putting things away makes you feel like you can control your world (even if it’s only a small part).
- Take a shower. Escape the chaos and take care of yourself first. A shower seems to wash away at least a part of our woes every time. You don’t have to immediately figure out a solution. Take a break and come back later.
Ways to Calm Down Via the Mind
What do you do when you see an unpleasant TV show come on? You change the channel, right? It’s just as easy to manage stress. Change the channel of your mind with one of these tips. Once you feel calmer, you’ll be more apt to take care of the issue.
- Read funny comics. Laughter reduces stress and improves your mood. Funny comics put things in perspective and lighten you up pronto.
- Write freely. Set a timer for 5 minutes and jot down everything you’re thinking and feeling. Avoid judging yourself. Shred the piece of paper when you’re done. You’ll instantly feel lighter and refreshed.
- Listen to your favorite music. Blast music that makes you happy. Put the outside world on hold while you relax in your space. Feel the tension dissipate.
Which ways to calm down will you try the next time you feel overwhelmed?
What worked or didn’t work for you?
Let me know in the comments.
Keep these 10 ways to calm down on hand. Get the cheatsheet below!
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness coach on a mission to help people let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.