I wish I’d known how to stay calm.
My anger used to race at the slightest criticism.
My husband tiptoed on eggshells to avoid offending me. Mom preferred talking about cooking, a “safe” topic. Friends never spoke up.
I grew up with an extremely critical father. So, the tiniest (perceived) criticism stung.
My nerves were electric.
Does your anger, sadness or fear overwhelm you?
It’s miserable when you have no idea how to stay calm. You say things you regret later, cry till your eyes puff up or fail to take action.
Finding the root causes of negative emotions helps you heal past hurts and get unstuck. But for now, you just want quick and easy ways to keep your cool.
Read on to discover grounding techniques, then try one or all ten to help manage your emotions, instead of getting swept away in them.
No one taught you how to stay calm
Most people believe strong negative emotions like anger, sadness, fear, anxiety or jealousy are trouble. We’ll do anything to avoid negative emotions: blame others, ignore our feelings, drink excessively or abuse screen time.
No one taught us how to stay calm. Emotions are icky. When we feel angry, we snap at others. Scared, we freeze up.
It’s just what we do… isn’t it?
Unfortunately, when your emotions control you, you lose control of your life. Your thoughts scatter and your focus blurs. Life becomes one emotional roller coaster and nothing works.
Then you beat yourself up and feel like crap.
So, how can you stay calm?
Enter… grounding techniques! When you feel upset (or any strong emotion), have you noticed how most of your energy is up in your head?
Perhaps you even felt like your mind disconnected from your body?
You’re not centered when you:
- try to do too much
- beat yourself up
- ruminate about the past or future
- get distracted easily
- worry excessively
Grounding techniques guide your energy or attention from your head to the rest of your body. They often focus on the five senses or your immediate surroundings to connect your mind and body to the present moment.
“The more rooted you are in your body, the less stress and anxiety you experience.” —Scott Jeffrey
Why is it so hard to stay calm?
Blame the inner critic.
It’s that voice in your head that puts you down: You’re stupid. Haven’t you learned? You’re never going to succeed.
Fear motivates the inner critic and forms the base of many negative emotions. So, the inner critic uses the fight or flight response to ensure your survival, but also your emotional well-being.
By criticizing you before others can, the inner critic hopes to whip you into action.
The goal? To make sure others love, accept and respect you.
However, the inner critic tends to abuse you. It doesn’t know how to stay calm when danger seems to loom at every corner.
Chronic fatigue, burnout
But you can take the inner critic’s reins. You can choose to not let fear dictate your life.
The next time your emotions overwhelm you, use a grounding technique to stop the fight or flight response.
While you’ll still feel strong emotions, you’ll know how to stay calm in the storm. Remember, the goal isn’t to avoid your emotions because that reinforces them; rather, you want to be able to feel them without going crazy.
And after the emotion fizzles out, your mind naturally clears up, making room for solutions.
So, go ahead, check out these 10 grounding techniques below.
1) Let your emotions flow
When we feel strong negative emotions, we tend to ignore or repress them—or on the flip side, lash out. But by doing so, we actually reinforce the emotions, causing more stress and problems in the long run.
Instead, acknowledge how you’re feeling right now. Where do you feel tense in your body? Avoid judging yourself or rationalizing.
Identify the emotion, but don’t identify with it: I feel angry versus I’m angry. This lessens the emotion’s grip on you and allows it to pass quicker.
Can you feel your anger/sadness/fear circulating?
2) Pay attention to your belly
Place your hands on your belly to help you focus. Pay attention to how it inflates and deflates with air.
Breathe deeply. Keep focusing on your belly till you feel calmer.
Your breath is a reliable anchor when emotions take over.
3) Breathe the emotion down to your feet
Have you ever tried a visualization?
Inhale, while imagining your breath attracting the negative emotion in your body like a magnet.
As you exhale, envision the negative emotion gliding down to your feet, where it exits your body and gets absorbed by the earth.
Repeat until you feel calmer.
4) Notice your body’s contact with the floor or chair
Notice how the chair feels against your back. Does it feel comfy or hard?
Be mindful of the floor under your feet. “Grab” the floor with your toes. Or take note of how soft your socks feel against your ankles.
Focusing on your body and its contact to objects centers you while your emotions run amok. This too shall pass.
5) Touch and describe objects
As soon as you feel overwhelmed or ruminate, pick up any object and examine it. Then, describe the object in as much detail as possible.
List the object’s characteristics in your head—or out loud, if you don’t care about sounding like a madwoman. Even if it’s just my sweater, there are plenty of details to awaken my senses (and get myself out of my head):
- white wool
- intricate cable knit stitches
- airy yet heavy
- soft, stretchy and a bit scratchy
- lavender scented (from my perfume)
You can even keep a box of unusual or fun objects (like crystals or seashells) just for this purpose. Or keep one in your pocket to do this exercise during a stressful event.
6) Stand like a tree
Business coach Scott Jeffrey suggests imitating a tree to ground yourself in 1 to 10 minutes: first, stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your hands by your side or put them on your belly.
Imagine your body’s weight and tension sinking into the ground. Visualize roots growing out of your feet and reaching deep into the earth.
7) The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Take a few deep breaths to calm down a bit. Then follow these steps to bring your mind into the here and now (source):
- Name 5 things you see around you. I see a plant, pan, stove, curtain and window.
- Name 4 things you can touch around you. I can touch my t-shirt, glasses, dishtowel and the floor underneath my feet.
- Name 3 things you can hear. I hear the TV, kids playing outside and a motorcycle zooming by.
- Name 2 things you can smell. I can smell the cookies I baked and clean laundry.
- Name 1 thing you can taste. I can still taste the soup I had for lunch!
- Repeat the process, if you need to.
8) Tense and relax a body part
In Lori Lite’s illustrated children’s book Angry Octopus, a mermaid helps an octopus manage his anger after the destruction of his seashell garden (cute, huh?).
This grounding technique is also called Progressive Muscular Relaxation. Use it to let go of stress, anxiety and strong emotions.
Get into a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale via your mouth. Then:
Next, repeat the process for your:
- hips, stomach and back
- chest, neck and shoulders
- arms, hands and fingers
- jaw, lips, nose and face
- forehead and thoughts in your head (this always makes me laugh!)
Finally, stay still for a few moments and enjoy how good it feels.
9) Do Mindful Movements
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher and peace activist, developed these gentle exercises, based in yoga and tai-chi.
My favorite is “Open Like a Flower”. Imagine you’re a flower opening and closing:
- Breathe in and open your arms out to the side, with your palms up.
- Breathe out and touch your shoulders with your fingertips.
- Breathe in and open your arms out to the side again.
- Breathe out and touch your shoulders again.
This site presents 7 Mindful Movements you can do right now (get the other 3 in Hanh’s book). Do each movement 4 times to fully benefit from each one.
10) Inhale “here”, exhale “now”
Close your eyes.
As you inhale through your nose, say in your mind, “Here.”
As you exhale through your mouth, say in your mind, “Now.”
Continue for as long as you need.
If you lose your concentration, place your hand on your belly during this exercise.
Now that you know how to stay calm…
It’s time to put your knowledge in action!
Don’t expect your fear, sadness or anger to disappear. They’re a part of being human.
Instead, use a grounding technique to stay calm and centered as you feel your emotions. Then, see what you can learn and find solutions.
That’s how I managed my fear of criticism—and saved my relationships.
Now it’s your turn.
Which grounding technique will you try today?
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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.