How to calm your nervous system when you’re anxious or stressed is a valuable skill to have in your emotional health and wellbeing toolbox.
Our world seems to be getting more and more out of control every week (day?!). Our nervous systems are freaking out by an almost constant onslaught of worrying financial news, a global political divide that’s wreaking havoc everywhere, the never-ending covid pandemic, and now? War. One that we can watch in real time.
Are You Feeling Calm?
How do you feel right now, after reading that paragraph? Has your heart rate increased? Did you skim over it because it’s too much to bear? Are you thinking of grabbing a cookie to munch on or wishing it was time to pour your first glass of wine?
Our central nervous systems are in overdrive. They’re running at an 11, on a scale of 1 to 10. And there’s no short or easy end in sight.
However. There are plenty of things you can do to help soothe your system when it’s freaking out.
5 Free How-To’s For Calming Yourself Down
1. Stop running away from yourself, just for a little minute. Sit up straight, take one deep breath all the way down into your low belly. Pause for a sec. Then completely exhale, feeling the sensation of oxygen passing through your nose and out into the room.
Good. Check in with yourself. Do you feel any different?
Take another deep breath, all the way down. Feel your low belly gently moving out as you inhale. Pause, just for a second. Gently release your breath, exhaling completely.
Simply noticing your breath, bringing your attention back into your physical body, is one of the easiest ways to help calm yourself.
2. Another easy, fast, and free way to take yourself out of your worrying mind and come back home, into your body, is to use your physical senses to notice where you are.
Look around you and find a color. Name the color you see. Do this again: let your eyes gently scan around and settle on another color, and say the color.
Find a pattern that feels soothing to you — the paisley form on a rug or mat, the geometric edges of a framed picture or painting. Let your eye follow the outline of the shape. And now? Gently do it again, letting your eyes find another pattern.
3. Notice what your feet are resting on. Are they both on the ground? Are you wearing shoes and socks, or can you feel the softness of the air on your bare skin? Just notice.
No need to do anything else. Bring your mind back home, into your body and the sensations you’re feeling.
That’s all. Simple. Gentle. Check in with your breath as you feel your feet and whatever they’re resting on to help you stay grounded and stable.
4. Use your hearing to listen to the sounds around you. As I’m writing this, on a cold late-winter morning in Santa Fe, I hear the whisper of the heater, the clanging of the wind chimes outside, the gurgle of my hungry stomach. Hear what you hear. Notice what you notice. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath and the sounds around you.
5. Finally, you can use your hands and the sensation of touch to soothe and calm your nervous system. Sitting quietly, in whatever position is comfortable for you, gently feel your left hand with your right one. Hold one of your hands in the other. Use your right thumb to move along the lines on the inside of your left palm. Does it tickle? What do you feel? What do you see?
Using the index finger of your right hand to feel along the top of your left hand, notice how that feels. Are your hands cool? Sweaty? Rough?
There are no wrong answers in the land of mindful attention. There’s only whatever there is.
And now, as you check in with yourself after doing, or even reading about doing these simple little things, how are you? More relaxed? Or more anxious? Can you feel what’s been waiting underneath the stress and anxiety and overwhelm of your over-stimulated nervous system? Are you tired? Perhaps filled with sadness and grief. Too anxious to sit still?
Remember, there aren’t any wrong answers. There’s only what’s true and real for you right now.
If you’d like to understand how to work with your nervous system to feel more calm and emotionally regulated, more relaxed and peaceful, you can download a meditation app such as Calm, Headspace or Insight Timer.
And if you’re ready for an in-depth 1-on-1 coaching program to learn how to manage stress, anxiety and overwhelm, and move from feeling hopeless and defeated to strong and in charge of your life, send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll schedule a free 15-minute consult call.
Because you don’t have to suffer alone anymore. I’m Melanie, the Santa Fe therapist, and I’m here to help you change your life.