Take Back Your Calm: 10 Ways to Calm Your Nervous System and Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Written by: Athen Fisher, LMFT
Email notification.  News alert.  Text message.  A new like on your Insta post.  Your kid asking a question.  The dog barking.  The timer going off on the oven. There are so many inputs that amp up our nervous system and get adrenaline and cortisol hormones pumping through our bodies on a momentary and daily basis. We are flooded with input in our modern society, and some of our biggest conveniences are also our weaknesses as they fill us with constant information and updates- the news, text messages, social media.  We worry we may miss out on things if we don’t check our feed or phone often. And it's addictive. FOMO is REAL. While there are definite benefits from getting information fast and quickly, the downfall is that we are often not in the present moment, in the here and now. I think we have to be much more intentional in this modern technology and information-driven era in order to slow down and be present and mindful. Achieving calm is much more difficult than it used to be and we do see increased rates of anxiety, depression, addiction and mental health issues that correlate with that. I am hoping this blog post helps you find or remember some simple and effective practices that you can integrate into your daily life that will help you achieve calm, even in the midst of a stressful world, day, moment or season in your life.  All of these are best used as regular practices integrated into your daily routine rather than only in moments of intense anxiety or panic.  I often use the metaphor that it is easier to prevent a fire (by watering the area, reducing brush and hazards), rather than put one out. *** Before any of these practices, notice, without judgement, any emotions or thoughts you may be having and acknowledge that they are there and that’s okay
  1. Breathe and through the nose and out through the mouth, noticing your breath on the way in, and on the way out. Spending a few moments or several minutes simply breathing in and out and bringing your attention to your breath, even if it wanders, can you really slow down your body and mind. Often we are not taking deep, inhalations and are breathing shallowly when we are stressed, in a rush, or filled with emotion, so this allows our mind to clear and to think more clearly and rationally.
  2. Get outside in nature. There is so much research that shows spending time outdoors improves mood and mental state. It could be your backyard, a walk around the neighborhood, a hike, the forest, just noticing the trees outside of your office and standing outside.
  3. Focus on your five senses. Take some time and go through each of the five senses-sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you feel with your hands or beneath you? Do you smell anything? Feel free to eat a piece of chocolate or a mint, have warm cup of tea or coffee or a cold drink, light a candle or smell some fresh flowers or oils to further engage your senses.
  4. Movement. The stress response cycle is something that needs to be completed.  It starts in our body and our nervous system when we get alerts of a crisis happening in the world, get a message from someone with an urgent issue at work or in our family, etc., and it needs to be completed through movement. Without movement, the stress is stored in our bodies and the cycle is not completed.  Movement is key to allow this stress to move through us and out.   This could look like standing up, jumping up and down, shaking out your arms for a minute or more traditional exercise like going for a run, a bike ride or yoga.
  5. Get chilly. Splash your face with cold water or plunge in a cold pool, take a cold shower. There are so many benefits of cold for our mental state and mood, and it gives a reset and energy to our bodies and minds.
  6. Meditate. Whether you hop on YouTube or the Calm app, there are so many different meditations that you can listen to that lead you through relaxation and meditation.
  7. Get artsy or crafty. Whether it’s coloring, molding clay, knitting or painting, getting creative and using that right part of our brains can keep us in the present moment with our hands and our mind not focused on anything else.
  8. Touch. Hug a loved one for several moments until you feel both your body and theirs relax, or give yourself a nice neck and shoulder rub. Cuddle up with a pet.
  9. Music. Listen to relaxing music or play an instrument.  Music peaks our sense of hearing and can relax our minds and bodies.
  10. Practice gratitude. Take a few moments to think about or write down what you are grateful for, what is still okay or good in your life.
  If you are struggling with stress and anxiety, you are not alone!  We are here to help.  Reach out today to get support and therapy for anxiety and stress.