How to Calm Down When Stressed

Published on: 01 Jul 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C
man meditating amidst boxes

It’s normal to occasionally feel overwhelmed and stressed out in your daily life. Things like work, navigating traffic, paying bills, dealing with children, arguing with a spouse, or worrying about a loved one’s health can consume your days and take hold of your emotions if you let them. Everyone must deal with stressful times in life. In fact, a little bit of stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

However, excessive stress for too long can cause serious physical and mental health problems. There’s certainly a difference between good stress vs. bad stress. However, understanding those differences can be key in how you respond to and manage stress in your life. 

Read on to learn about 10 specific techniques you can use to relax your breath, calm your thoughts, let go of frustration, and move into a more peaceful, easy place. It is possible to take control of your stress — let’s go over how. 

10 Ways to Calm Down When Stressed

There are dozens of effective, proven ways to calm your mind and body when stress is getting the best of you. Here are 10 of our favorite strategies. 

“It’s helpful to practice these strategies when you’re calm to build muscles, so that when you’re stressed, it’s easier to use them. Incorporating these practices into your life has short- and long-term benefits for overall stress levels and mental well-being. It’s amazing that even a few minutes a day makes a significant difference.”

Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH 

1. Breathe

Surely you’ve heard the tip, “Just take a deep breath!” as advice to calm down. While cliche, breath is your primary connection to life. Stress can affect your breathing, causing rapid, shallow breaths and an increased heart rate and blood pressure. You can fight that physical response, though, and there’s power in knowing how to use your breath to reduce or alleviate the stress you’re feeling. When you’re calm and relaxed, your breathing will become full and slow.

Intentional, controlled breathing can be a great way to manage stress and relax. Try a simple deep breathing exercise known as the 4-7-8 technique right now. 

  • Simply breathe in for a slow count of 4 
  • Hold that breath for a slow count of 7
  • Release your breath for a slow count of 8
  • Repeat 10 times

Try this effective diaphragmatic breathing exercise the next time you’re feeling really stressed out or having anxious thoughts. It’s a guaranteed way to combat physiological responses to stress. For more tips, learn how to practice mindful breathing for anxiety.

2. Practice mindfulness meditation

Knowing how to calm down when stressed can do wonders for your quality of life. Perhaps the only thing more important than how you breathe is how you think. It’s your thoughts that allow you to breathe with intention so you can learn to remain in a calm state, especially during times of increased stress.

Mindfulness meditation involves watching your thoughts as they evolve. Staying in touch with your thinking lets you live a more purposeful existence. This relaxation technique allows you to see your place in what you perceive as a stressful situation. That, in turn, allows you to regain your composure and control the difficult situation at hand.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the benefits of mindfulness meditation include: 

  • Stress reduction
  • Reduced rumination
  • Increased satisfaction in intrapersonal relationships
  • Decreased emotional reactivity
  • Increased cognitive flexibility
  • Improved ability to focus
  • Boosted working memory

While you can use meditation for stress, it’s also an excellent practice to incorporate into your daily routine.

3. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to calm down when stressed. Research done at the University of Missouri links physical activity to a longer lifespan and an ability to thwart the onset of more than 40 chronic diseases and conditions. 

How does exercise reduce stress, exactly? Research from the University of Nebraska Medical Center confirms that physical activity improves mental and physical health in multiple ways, including: 

  • Alleviating stress
  • Enhancing sleep
  • Boosting libido
  • Increasing endurance
  • Improving mood
  • Increasing energy
  • Reducing tiredness
  • Increasing stamina
  • Improving mental alertness
  • Reducing LDL-cholesterol
  • Reducing body weight

4. Get outside

Nature is a healer. Fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds, sights, smells, and general feeling of being outdoors can become an integral part of your happiness.

According to researchers at Stanford University, spending time in nature has a positive impact on several health conditions, both mental and physical. They found that when people spend time outdoors and in nature, they can see improvement in: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity

5. Challenge negative thoughts

Challenging negative thoughts goes hand in hand with mindfulness meditation. Meditation isn’t just about watching your breath. It’s a never-ending, lifelong practice where you can monitor your thought processes and behavioral reactions. 

Learning to be constant in watching your thoughts and challenging those that are unhealthy or unproductive, can be a game-changer when it comes to managing stress. Only you can control your thoughts, and as the saying goes, your thoughts create your world.

6. Listen to soothing music

For many people, music can be magic. It can soothe your core energy. According to a systematic review from the University of Queensland, an abundance of research shows that actively participating in dance and music can be a highly effective way to establish and promote general health and well-being and a great way to relieve stress.  

7. Play with pets and animals

Few things can reduce stress like spending time with sweet animals. Trusting eyes, wagging tails, playful attitudes, and a clear desire for acceptance and friendship can make spending time with your animal friends some of the best parts of your day.

According to UCLA Health, “The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.”

8. Talk to a therapist or friend

Everyone experiences stress at some point in life, and it can help to talk to someone. If you don’t have anybody you trust — like a parent, spouse, relative, friend, or pastor — consider talking to a professional. Talk therapy is a non-invasive, non-pharmacological approach that can help you understand the source of your stress so you can create a plan for managing it in a healthy way.

Results from a randomized controlled trial show that guided rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (RFCBT) is an effective way to combat the onset of depression, even in people who are at high risk and report high levels of stress.

When it comes to therapy options, online therapy can be very beneficial, and that’s where Talkspace comes in. From the palm of your hand, you can connect with a licensed therapist and use a convenient and affordable method to improve your mental health.

9. Start journaling

Daily journaling for mental health can be extremely helpful for staying in touch with your thoughts, focusing on your goals, supporting your perspective, and living a more stress-free life. Even just 5 minutes a day of journaling can offer amazing changes in your life. Try it for one week and see for yourself.

10. Find gratitude

During times when we feel at our lowest, there’s still an opportunity to course-correct and recover. If you’re alive, you can find a reason to be thankful. Research shows that gratitude is an effective way to manage stress and improve positivity. 

Simple things like keeping a gratitude journal and listing 3 things you’re grateful for each morning or night can be a great way to reset and recharge your mind. You’ll learn to focus on the good and let go of the stress.  

Stress Management Practice for Life Long Skills

It’s natural to experience stress as we navigate complicated and busy lives, but excessive or chronic stress is never a good thing. That’s why it’s so important to put into practice various coping techniques that can alleviate stress on a day-to-day basis. That way, stress never has the opportunity to build up to toxic levels.

Knowing how to calm down when stressed is a skill that’ll carry you far in life. Take the time you need each day to practice self-love, reduce stress, and live your best life. Live in the present moment and fill your days with gratitude, peacefulness, and calmness, and always be mindful of how stress is impacting your well-being.

Sources:

1. Davis, PhD D, Hayes, PhD J. What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association. 2012;43(7):64.. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner. . Accessed May 9, 2022. 

2. Ruegsegger G, Booth F. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2017;8(7):a029694. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a029694. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28507196/. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

3. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty F. Exercise for Mental Health. The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2006;08(02):106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

4. Frumkin H, Bratman G, Breslow S et al. Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125(7):075001. doi:10.1289/ehp1663. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5744722/. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

5. Sheppard A, Broughton M. Promoting wellbeing and health through active participation in music and dance: a systematic review. Int J Qual Stud Health Well-being. 2020;15(1):1732526. doi:10.1080/17482631.2020.1732526. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7178871/. Accessed May 9, 2022.  

6. Gawlinski, R.N., D.N.Sc. A, Steers, Ph.D. N. Animal-Assisted Therapy Research | UCLA Health. Uclahealth.org. https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy. Published 2005. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

7. Cook L, Mostazir M, Watkins E. Reducing Stress and Preventing Depression (RESPOND): Randomized Controlled Trial of Web-Based Rumination-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for High-Ruminating University Students. J Med Internet Res. 2019;21(5):e11349. doi:10.2196/11349. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6536298/. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

8. Practicing Gratitude. NIH News in Health. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2019/03/practicing-gratitude. Published 2019. Accessed May 9, 2022. 

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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