3 Quick Tips For Calm

1. Tense & Release
2. Slow Your Breath
3. Ground Yourself

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Our brain's job is to help us predict an ever-changing world around us in order to establish a sense of stability. When we encounter a stressful situation - a deadline at work, an argument with a loved one, or sudden illness - our brain triggers a response of stress hormones. These hormones create familiar physiologic changes in our body - rapid heart beat, quickening of our breath, tension in our muscles - in effort to prepare us to respond.

These very normal, and very human, changes in our body are commonly referred to as the "fight or flight response" and are a part of our survival mechanism. It helps us to respond quickly and efficiently to our challenging circumstances. The problem arises when our perception of a stressor may be disproportionate to what is actually going on. For instance, giving a presentation, being stuck in traffic, or worrying whether we said "the right thing". We don't like what's happening, the tension we may feel in these moments, and yet, we are actually quite safe.

Even when the circumstances do justify our cascade of stress hormones, the resulting physiological changes can get in the way of problem solving to see our way through the storm.

When the fight or flight response is activated, you can induce a calming effect, or a relaxation response, to counter it. Here are 3 helpful ways you can induce calm in these moments.

1. Tense & Release

(the quick version)

1) Move into a comfortable position, sitting is preferable, yet it's not required

2) Loosen your muscles, let your hands lay flat on your lap, legs uncrossed

3) Take in a short or regular inhalation through your nose, breathe out slowly through your mouth

4) Count to 3, continuing to breathe regularly, in through your nose, out through your mouth

5) On your 3rd breath, tense and hold all your muscles in your body - including your face, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, thighs, and feet - and hold for about 5 seconds

6) Release 

7) Notice the difference

8) Repeat about three times

2. Slow Your Breath

When our breath becomes shallow, fast, and we don't feel like we're taking in as much air as we need, we tend to take deeper, longer breaths. However, with a flight or fight response, this is hard to do, and may send more signals to your brain that you can't breathe, creating a greater sense of panic. Keep it simple, take short inhalations and looong exhalations.

1) Inhale through your nose for one count, exhale out through your mouth for 2 counts, if you feel that you can't inhale through your nose, that's okay, do what is most comfortable in the moment

2) Focus more on the exhalation, so short inhale, longer exhale

3) When your breath becomes more regular try inhaling for 2 counts, preferably through the nose, and exhale for 3 counts, preferably through the mouth

4) Again, when your breath becomes more regular, inhale through your nose for 3 counts, allowing your chest to rise, and then exhale longer for 4 to 5 counts.

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3. Ground Yourself

Our internal experience - emotions, worries, perceptions, memories - depends on where our attention is or what we're choosing to attend to in the moment. Fortunately, the brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Like a gear shift, you can use your attention to change your internal experience by shifting your attention to your 5-senses.

1) Find FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings. Or look for objects of the same color, for example, all things blue.

2) Notice FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet. 

3) Listen for THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.

4) Find TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.

5) Look for ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?

Medical Disclaimer

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

1. Roderik J. S. Gerritsen and Guido P. H. Band. "Breath of Life: The Respiratory Vagal Stimulation Model of Contemplative Activity" Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (First published online: October 9, 2018) DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00397