Be Calm

Most of us can become calmer than we are today. Calm people are happier and help others to be more calm. You probably have been grateful to someone else who was calm when you were in a crisis. There's a variety of techniques you can try to become a calmer person, from meditation to getting more sleep. Give a few of these a whirl!


Calming Down In the Moment

  1. Stop and re-focus your senses. When you encounter stress, anger, or anxiety, it can trigger you body’s “fight or flight” mode. Your sympathetic nervous system perceives that you’re under attack and kicks your body into high gear, boosting your heart rate, constricting blood vessels, restricting your breathing, and tensing your muscles.[1] When you feel these symptoms, stop what you’re doing (if you can safely) and re-focus your senses on what your body is experiencing. This can help reduce what scientists call “automatic reactivity.”[2]
    • Your brain develops “automatic reactivity” patterns to stimuli such as stressors. These are basically habits that your brain triggers. Whenever it encounters a particular stimulus, such as a fight with a person, it activates a particular set of pathways.
    • Studies show that breaking this “habit” of reaction by re-focusing your senses on what’s actually going on can help your brain develop new, healthier habitual reactions.[2]
    • Do a quick body scan, but don’t judge anything you’re feeling as “good” or “bad.” Try to stick to the facts. For example, if you’re angry, your heartbeat is probably pumping and you may even feel queasy. Simply acknowledge these sensory experiences.[3] For example: “Right now I feel nauseated. My breathing is very quick. My face feels hot and flushed.” By identifying these physical experiences, you can separate them from the emotional reaction.
  2. Breathe from your diaphragm. When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing becomes quick and shallow. Breathing deeply from your diaphragm helps combat this stress response by signaling your brain to release calming neurotransmitters and restoring oxygen to your body.[4] A few deep breaths can help you feel calmer almost immediately.
    • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, beneath your ribcage. As you inhale, you should feel the hand on your belly rise. If you don’t, you’re only breathing from your chest.[5]
    • Inhale slowly through your nose. Aim to inhale for a count of 5. Focus on your lungs and abdomen expanding and filling with air.[6]
    • Hold this breath for a few seconds. Ideally, you would hold it for a count of 5, but if you can’t do that immediately, hold it for at least 1-2 seconds.
    • Slowly release your breath through your mouth for a count of 5. Try to release your breath in an even fashion, rather than letting it all whoosh out at once.
    • Take two normal breaths, then repeat the breath cycle.
  3. Try progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, can help you consciously release the tension in your body that can build up when you’re stressed or angry. With PMR you tense and then release your muscles in groups from your head to your toes, signaling your body to relax. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a fast way to calm down.[7]
    • If you can, find a quiet place free of distractions. You can even do PMR at your desk if you need to, though.
    • Loosen tight clothing. Take a few deep breaths.
    • Start with the muscles in your forehead. Raise your eyebrows as high as they’ll go and hold this position for 5 seconds. Release the tension. Then, furrow your brow as hard as you can for 5 seconds. Release the tension.
    • After you release the first muscle group, notice the difference in that area for 15 seconds before moving on. You want to learn how to tell what “relaxed” and “tense” feel like so that you can consciously release tension when you need to.
    • Move to your lips. Purse them tightly for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Then, smile as widely as you can for 5 seconds, then release the tension. Enjoy the sensation for 15 seconds.
    • Continue this pattern of holding tension for 5 seconds, releasing, and relaxing for 15 seconds with the remaining muscle groups: neck, shoulders, arms, chest, stomach, buttocks, thighs, lower legs, feet, and toes.
    • You can find free guided PMR routines online, too. MIT has a free MP3 PMR routine.[8]
  4. Distract yourself. Sometimes, you need to break the cycle of focusing on whatever has upset you. Ruminating, that “broken record” loop where you think the same upset thoughts over and over again, can worsen or even cause anxiety and depression.[9] Distraction isn’t a good long-term solution, but it’s very helpful to reduce stress in the moment and help you focus on something positive.[10]
    • Chat with a friend. Studies show that socializing with people you love can help reduce your feelings of stress. Spend some time with a friend or loved one.[11]
    • Check out something silly. “Silly” humor, like funny cat videos or a humorous movie, can help you calm down and get a little distance from whatever has upset you. However, you should try to avoid mean-spirited or sarcastic humor, as it could actually make you more upset, not less.[12]
    • Play a game. Games are great for letting us give our brains a break.
    • Play with your pet. Studies show that interacting with a loved cat or dog can lower stress hormones and help you feel calm and happy.[13]
    • There are plenty of other ways to distract yourself. Pick up a good book, go for a long walk, grab your camera and take some beautiful pictures.
    • Don’t try to distract yourself with alcohol, drugs, or even food. Trying to self-medicate by getting drunk or binge-eating will cause further problems, and it won’t help you address the root of what has you upset.[14]
  5. Exercise. When you’re feeling upset, a little moderate exercise could help you feel better fast. Exercise releases endorphins in your body, which are natural mood boosters.[15] Several studies have shown that exercise reduces feelings of anger and increases your feelings of calmness and well-being.[16][17][18] The next time you’re upset, go for a quick run or bust into your favorite dance moves. You’ll feel better.
    • Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. You don’t even have to hit the gym: walking, jogging, even gardening have excellent effects on your mood and your fitness.
    • Exercise also has a preventive effect. One study suggests that aerobic exercise before an upsetting experience can help you stay calmer during that experience.[18]
    • Exercises such as yoga and tai chi, which incorporate meditation, deep breathing, and physical movement, can also have excellent calming effects.[19][20]
  6. Try aromatherapy solutions. Aromatherapy may help calm you down.[21] Try adding a few drops of essential oil to a hot bath or shower bomb.
    • Try sandalwood, lavender, or German chamomile for stress.
    • Do not ingest essential oils. Many of them are toxic if you consume them.
    • You can have a massage or a Give a Foot Rub that uses these oils.
    • Always use a carrier oil, such as jojoba, avocado, or sunflower oil, because essential oils are so concentrated they can irritate the skin if applied on their own.
  7. Listen to music. Music has a very relaxing effect on how we think. If you're having a hard time calming down, try some calming music. Avoid music with harsh sounds or fast tempos, even if it's music you really like, because this music can actually add to your stress! Just listen to calm music when you're trying to calm down.
    • The British Academy of Sound Therapy has put together a playlist of the world’s most relaxing music according to science. Artists include Marconi Union, Enya, and Coldplay.
  8. Change the conversation. Sometimes, someone wants to talk to you about a topic that you just don’t agree on. If you can have a productive discussion, that’s great! But if the conversation feels like it’s devolved into opposing monologues, change the conversation to something less upsetting.[22]
    • Stay away from potentially incendiary topics such as religion and politics, particularly with people you don’t know well.
    • It can feel awkward to interrupt an upsetting conversation, but the relief is worth it. Try something polite, like “You know, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this subject. How about we talk about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones instead?”
    • If the other person won’t give up, excuse yourself from the conversation. Use an “I”-statement to avoid sounding like you’re blaming the other person: “You know, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I’m going to take a little break from this conversation.”

Promoting Calm With Your Lifestyle

  1. Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep or your sleep cycle is disturbed, it can leave you prone to stress (especially if you’re already a worrier).[23] Sleep allows your muscles and brain to relax and repair themselves so you can start the day with a lower “baseline” anxiety.[24][25] Even small disturbances in your sleep can drastically affect your memory, judgment, and mood.[26] Get the sleep you need to help you stay calm throughout the day.
    • The recommendation for adults is between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This figure is higher for adolescents.[24]
    • People who don’t get enough sleep report symptoms of stress, such as feeling irritable, angry, or overwhelmed, much more than people who get enough sleep.[24]
    • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every night, including weekends. This will help your body regulate your sleep.[27]
    • Avoid napping after 5 PM, heavy dinners, stimulants in the evening, and blue-light screens before bed. These can all interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
  2. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can help you feel more alert and energetic, but it also exaggerates your body’s stress responses.[28] If you must drink caffeine, try to avoid drinking more than 200mg a day (about two cups of brewed coffee). Don’t drink caffeine after 5 PM to avoid interfering with your sleep cycle.[29]
    • Stimulants also disturb your sleep cycles.[27]
    • Alcohol is a suppressant, which means that is reduces tension or stress in the body. Using alcohol to medicate stress is a bad idea, though, because your anxiety will rebound once the alcohol is out of your system (and alcohol won’t address your root problems).[30] It may make it easier to fall asleep, but it also seriously disturbs your REM sleep, leaving you feeling tired and worn-out the next day.[31]
    • If you do drink alcohol, make sure you do it in moderation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that if you are male, you should not drink more than 4 drinks in one day and no more than 14 drinks per week. If you are female, do not drink more than 3 drinks in one day and no more than 7 drinks per week.[32]
    • A “standard drink” may be less than you think. The NIAAA defines one drink as: 12 ounces of regular beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof spirits.[33]
    • Nicotine is also a powerful stimulant that exaggerates your body’s stress responses. Smoking is very bad for your health, and the longer you smoke, the worse the damage is. Be aware, though, that quitting smoking can be very stressful itself, so quitting during a period of high stress may not be the best idea.
  3. Avoid negativity when you can. Exposure to negativity too often can encourage your brain to make negative thinking a habit. This obviously won’t do much for the calm mindset you’re looking to cultivate![34][35]
    • Sometimes, people need to vent. This is perfectly healthy. However, make sure that the complaining doesn’t go on for too long. Even 30 minutes of a stressful experience like listening to someone else complain can elevate your stress hormones.[35]
    • If you are in a situation where you can’t avoid the negativity, such as at work, try to make a quiet “safe place” for yourself mentally. Retreat there when the pressure gets too much.[36]
  4. Avoid stress where you can. Obviously, you can’t avoid all the stress in your life. Experiencing stress and unpleasant events is just part of being human. However, you may be able to reduce those stressors with a few changes. If you can reduce the amount of stress in your life even in small ways, it can help you handle the other upsetting stuff that you can’t avoid.[12]
    • Try “outsmarting” things that upset you. For example, if the long line at the grocery store after work frustrates you, try going later at night. If rush hour gets your blood boiling, try leaving a little earlier.
    • Look for the silver lining. When you can reframe experiences so that you can get something positive out of them, you increase your ability to handle stress. For example, if you had car trouble and had to run to catch the bus to get to school, consider: you got some exercise and a story out of it. It’s not the silver-est of linings, but it’s better than focusing on how upsetting the event was.[37]
  5. Spend time with loved ones. Studies have shown that having a strong social support network of friends, family, and loved ones can promote a sense of belonging and security. It can even boost your feelings of self-confidence and self-worth.[38]
    • One study showed that having a “best friend” to share your emotions with can dramatically decrease the stress hormone cortisol in your body. It also helps buffer your experience of negativity from unpleasant events.[39]
    • Have fun with others. Studies show that having a good time with loved ones can help reduce your feelings of anger and increase your feelings of positivity.[40]
    • If you can laugh with friends, it’s even better. Laughter releases endorphins, those mood-boosting chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy. It can even increase your body’s ability to tolerate physical pain![41]
    • Make sure you spend time with positive people. Humans can “catch” emotions from other people just like we catch colds. If you hang out with people who are focused on their stress and negativity, it’ll affect you. On the flip side, if you hang out with people who focus on supporting each other in positive, healthy ways, you’ll feel better.[42]
  6. Meditate. Meditation is about stopping to be in the present moment, still and accepting.[43] Studies have shown that practicing meditation can promote relaxation, feelings of well-being, even boost your immune system. It can even help rewire your brain’s stress responses.[44] There are many types of meditation, although a lot of research has been done in support of “mindfulness meditation.”[45] Aim to practice meditation for 30 minutes each day -- you’ll see significant results in as little as two weeks.
    • Begin by finding a quiet place without distractions. Don’t have the TV or computer on. Try to give yourself a minimum of 15 minutes to meditate, although 30 is even better.[46]
    • Close your eyes and take a few deep cleansing breaths. Continue breathing deeply and evenly as you meditate.
    • Imagine yourself as an outside witness to your thoughts. Watch them go by and acknowledge them without trying to judge them as “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” (This can take some practice. That’s okay.)
    • Ask yourself some questions to help guide your meditation. Begin by asking “What are my senses telling me?” Notice what you hear, smell, and feel. For example, is the room cold or warm? Do you hear birds, the whir of a dishwasher?
    • Ask yourself “What is my body doing?” Notice any tension (or relaxation) you feel in your body without judging it.
    • Ask yourself “What are my thoughts doing?” Notice whether they are critical, accepting, worried, etc. It can be easy to get swept up into a cycle of judging yourself for not meditating “well enough.” Allow yourself to notice your thoughts without judging yourself for them.
    • Ask yourself “What are my emotions doing?” How are you feeling right now? Stressed, calm, sad, content?
  7. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness has received a lot of scientific attention recently. Numerous research studies show that it can help promote calmness, help you feel able to regulate your emotions, change how you respond to things, even increase your ability to handle pain.[47] Mindfulness focuses on being aware of your thoughts and experiences in the moment, without judgement.[48] It can take a little practice, but using mindfulness techniques can help you calm down quickly and promote a general sense of well-being.
    • Try the “raisin meditation.” Mindfulness focuses on awareness of your experiences in the present moment without judgment. Believe it or not, you can practice your mindfulness with a handful of raisins in 5 minutes a day.[49]
      • Engage your senses. Hold the raisin. Turn it over in your fingers. Notice how it feels in your hand. Notice its texture. Take a good look at it. Examine its colors, its ridges, its variations. Smell it, noticing the aroma.
      • Place the raisin in your mouth. Notice how it feels in your mouth without chewing. Does your mouth water? Can you taste anything? Now begin chewing. Notice how the flavor develops. Notice the texture in your mouth as you eat it. As you swallow, notice the movement of your muscles as you do so.
    • Take a mindful walk. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the stresses of daily life that we don’t notice the beauty all around us. Focusing on being aware of what you experience while you’re out on a walk can help build mindfulness skills.[50]
      • Take a walk on your own. As you walk, try to notice as many details as you can. Use all of your senses. Imagine that you are an explorer from another world who has never seen this place before. Notice the colors, smells, sounds, etc., around you. As you notice each detail, mindfully acknowledge it to yourself, such as “I am aware that I’m seeing a beautiful red flower.” Notice how these experiences make you feel.[51]

Changing Your Outlook

  1. Define your strengths. It’s hard to feel calm and collected if you don’t know your own strengths. Take a little time to examine yourself and discover the unique things that make you you. Remind yourself how capable you are. Journaling can be a great way to discover positive things about yourself. Here are some questions to get you started:[52]
    • What makes you feel like a strong person?
    • What emotions do you feel when you’re feeling confident or strong?
    • What qualities define your strengths? This could be things like “compassion” or “family” or “ambition” -- whatever you think communicates you. Take a moment to review each one. Which ones do you like best?
    • You can also try writing positive statements to yourself each day. For example, remind yourself of things you’ve done well that day, or tell yourself something that you like or respect about yourself.[53]
  2. Use self-affirmations. Once you’ve figured out some of your positive attributes, remind yourself of them! It may feel awkward to say these things to yourself at first, but consider: you probably tell your loved ones how awesome they are all the time, right? Why not do the same for yourself? Try the following to help boost your self-confidence and increase your calm:[54]
    • Say affirmations out loud to yourself in the mirror. Look yourself in the eyes and repeat something positive to yourself, such as “I am a great friend and loving person” or “I love how my smile lights up my face when I’m happy.”
    • If you encounter unkind thoughts to yourself, change these into self-affirmations by reframing them. For example, imagine you find yourself thinking, “I’m so stressed, I will never be able to figure this out!”
    • Reframe this into a positive statement: “I am stressed right now, and I am learning new things every day to make myself stronger.”
  3. Be kind to yourself. Being calm begins with being self-loving (which is completely different from being self-absorbed). It's all too commonplace for us to take a negative tone with ourselves and to be our own unkindest critic. This can happen because we hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations, or because we forget to show ourselves the same compassion we show others.[6] Calm cannot settle when you feel nothing but self-criticism, self-loathing and a lack of self-trust. Take time to quiet your inner critic and remind yourself that you are worthy of love, dignity, and compassion -- from yourself as well as others.
    • Talk gently to yourself. When negative self talk wells up, practice challenging it with positive counter-thoughts or mantras.
    • For example, if you catch yourself worrying and telling yourself that you can’t handle a situation, ask yourself these things:
      • Is this thought kind to myself? If not, change the thought to a kinder one: “I am worried right now, but I can handle this.”
      • Does this thought make me feel capable and self-assured? If not, focus on your strengths and capabilities: “I’m worried that I don’t know enough to do this, but I am smart and can learn fast.”
      • Would I say this thought to a friend who was worried? If not, why would you say it to yourself?
    • Remember that everyone makes mistakes. It can be easy to hold yourself to a standard of perfection that you would never expect from your loved ones. Remind yourself of your common humanity. Acknowledge your mistake, then focus on how to correct it and do things differently in the future. This keeps you focused on positive growth, rather than beating yourself up for the past.
    • Know how valuable you are. Remind yourself daily of the virtues, strengths and beauty that you bring into the world. If you’re having trouble thinking of positive things, ask friends for help.
  4. Practice forgiveness with yourself and with others. Being unable to forgive compels you to discontent and internal war. Holding old grudges, being bitter and fueling constant anger create an inner turmoil that chains you to reliving past hurts. Do you really enjoy lugging that ball and chain around? Worse still, your health is impacted by long-lived grievances and your blood pressure, heart rate, physical and spiritual health will be suffering.[55]
    • Remind yourself that when you forgive, you remove the toxic feelings from your life; it is not about condoning what another person did but it is about no longer letting that person's actions run your outlook on life.
    • When you feel yourself getting angry at someone that hurt you, try to stop and think. Breathe slowly for a second. Does being angry make your life better? Does the hate you feel make you happy? Would the people that really love you want you to keep suffering like this? The answer to all of these questions is "no" release those negative feelings and seek out positive ones instead.
  5. Be patient. Patience is the begetter of calm. Impatience is the source of agitation and turbulence. Impatience says "I want it NOW" and when "it" doesn't appear now, you're liable to lose your temper and let the blood pressure rise. Impatience is often linked to unreasonable expectations about the world and other people (you expect too much of both yourself and of other people) and is often linked to perfectionism, which allows of no space to make errors or slow down. A calm person, on the other hand, is fully aware that errors occur sometimes and that speeding things up is liable to bring on errors, not alleviate them.[56]
    • If you catch yourself wanting to rush to do something, stop and evaluate the situation. Will someone die if you don't get what you need right now? If not, consider that stressing about this situation will only make your life worse and might even impair your judgement.
    • If you're still having trouble being patient, you might just need to practice more. Start by trying to be patient with small things, like waiting in line at the grocery store. Distract yourself by reading all of the headlines on the magazines in the checkout line. Work your way up to more challenging areas in your life, like road rage or dealing with your kids.
  6. Think about things before you start worrying. Most of the time, it is okay to not worry. Most of the time the news, the rumors, the negativity, the volatility, the insane highs and lows of human systems are just noise. Listen to too much of it and you sink into the mire of the rat race, ever running somewhere without a clear map forward. That will create intense disquiet and unease in your life. The wise person knows what to read, who to listen to and when to ignore the rumors (most of the time). The wise person is calm because the wise person accesses knowledge and knows how to use it for betterment of life.
  7. Slow down your life. Many people try to push, push and make for the exit even before the door is open (both in the metaphorical sense, and not). Consider all the times when a plane lands and everyone rushes to get off but all they do is end up standing in a queue. Know when it's really important to hurry and when it's okay to slow down. You'll find that for most situations, it's okay to slow down.
    • Slowing down will also let you doing things more thoroughly so that you can get them right and do them well the first time around. This will save you even more stress later on.
  8. Stop procrastinating. Procrastination is one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives. If you can learn to just get things done early or at least on time, you'll find yourself a lot more calm. This, of course, means focusing when things are supposed to be getting done and save distractions for later!
    • One way a lot of people lose a lot of time during the day is to checking their email. Have specific email times, just two or three times a day, and do not check your email in between.


  • Keep an open mind. Closed, calculating minds are the root of ignorance. Nothing changes if all minds are certain – remember that people once believed the world to be flat.
  • If you're feeling angry or upset, just count to ten and take deep breaths. Then make yourself some cooling herbal tea or chilled water and take yourself to another place to sit still and allow your imagination take over.
  • Do things you love.
  • If you are in a stressful situation and feel the need to be calm just simply walk away from the problem or take ten seconds to breath deeply and let all the thoughts sink in, before you can regret anything.


  • If you feel so stressed that it’s affecting your health or your personal or work life, consider seeking professional help from a mental health provider. A counselor or therapist can help you identify unhelpful ways of thinking and learn coping skills.

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Sources and Citations

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