There’s no way around it: Stress is a fact of life. Between your kids, work, and relationships, it can seem like there’s always something new to worry about. And while altogether eliminating anxiety might be wishful thinking, having a plan in place to deal with those daily stressors can at least stop them from throwing your whole day off course. To aid your quest for calm, we’ve enlisted four wellness experts for this guide to relaxing your nerves in 10 common angst-producing situations.
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1) You have such a busy day ahead that you’re feeling underwater before it even begins.
The Calming Strategy: “When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it becomes difficult to take things one step at a time,” says Anne Weisman, Ph.D., director of well-being and integrative medicine at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. One way to center yourself is to acknowledge and welcome your allotted tasks. “Pretend that ‘the overwhelm’ is in a chair across from you, and ask it what it’s doing there,” Weisman recommends. Grab a piece of paper and write down what your anxiety is telling you, and then continue asking questions and writing answers until it has tired itself out.
Now read back what you’ve written. With your responsibilities listed out on the page, instead of piled up in your head, you have a checklist of duties to tackle one by one. Finally, to avoid getting sidetracked, try an adaptogen like Arete Adaptogens Shroomy Mushroom Energy Root Strength Powder, which is designed to support your energy and keep you focused, with less anxiety-inducing caffeine than coffee.
2) You’re so nervous about a work presentation that your stomach is doing backflips.
The Calming Strategy: As counterintuitive as this sounds, nerves before a presentation aren’t inherently bad—too little excitement can make you lethargic and uninspiring. But to ensure your confidence remains high, start preparing several weeks ahead by visualizing what the task will be like, picturing the room and the other participants. If you feel anxiety flaring up, stop and take a deep breath before trying again. “Mentally rehearsing this way allows your brain to rewire itself to associate presenting with relaxation, rather than anxiety,” says Craig Kain, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and psychotherapist in Long Beach, California.
An hour before you present, give yourself time to enjoy your surroundings. Listen to music, talk to a loved one, or sip a glass of water with Bach Rescue Remedy, a calming flower essence. Then, immediately beforehand, do four rounds of box breathing: Inhale slowly while counting to four, hold your breath while counting to four, and then exhale while counting to four.
3) You have a party to attend, but you get jumpy around a lot of people.
The Calming Strategy: Social anxiety before big gatherings is far from uncommon, especially since the pandemic. To calm your nerves, “do what’s called soft-belly breathing before the event, or in a bathroom at the event,” Weisman says. Sit comfortably, and either close your eyes or relax your gaze. Breathe in through your nose and think “soft,” then exhale through your mouth and think “belly.” “This exercise naturally calms the nervous system and helps you return your awareness to the present moment,” she says. Once you’re calmer, add visualization. Who’s with you at the party? What are you wearing? Is there food? What does it look and smell like? Manifest the party you want to be at.
4) You need to have a difficult conversation with a friend, and you can’t stop thinking about all the different ways it could go wrong.
The Calming Strategy: Visualizing potential outcomes when you’re anticipating an event is normal. “It’s the mark of an intelligent person,” says Shaun S. Nanavati, Ph.D., cofounder and chief science officer of the anxiety app AQ. Yet anxiety can lead to “catastrophizing,” where you start envisioning the worst possible outcome. To prevent this, visualize a safe space in which the conversation can take place. “Engage your senses internally, so that you notice the time of day and the light, sensations, and sounds,” Nanavati says. Then detach yourself from the image in your mind, so you’re seeing it in the third person, like a film director watching two people talking. Ask yourself how you would direct your character in a way that creates a positive mood for the scene.
5) You pick up your phone to check something. Before you know it, you’re doom-scrolling through your social media feeds, and becoming ever more existentially fearful.
The Calming Strategy: While social media’s addictive nature can easily hijack your attention, you can break this habit—and even feel better about the occasional relapse. First, turn off your phone for 15 minutes to reset your mind. Then, to prevent yourself from returning to such a heightened state of dependence on your screen, schedule specific times during the day for social media breaks. If possible, go for a walk in nature without your phone to reconnect with the real world around you. Most important, don’t blame yourself for being attached to your phone. It’s something everyone is dealing with, and can only be addressed by finding positive alternatives.
6) Your parents are struggling with their health, your kids are having issues at school, and on top of it all, your dog is sick. You’re being pulled in every direction.
The Calming Strategy: Remember how you’re always told on airplanes to place an oxygen mask on your own face before helping others in an emergency? The same rule applies in daily life. “If you’re putting everybody else first and not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others,” says Lienna Wilson, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey. So plan time for self-care habits like meditating, exercising, or getting together with a friend. Then, and only then, take stock of what you need to do for others.
Also, while you can’t predict life’s twists and turns, you can organize them. Keeping a calendar allows you to proactively spread out your caretaking responsibilities: It’s better to take care of one person every other day than three people in one day. And if you’re still having trouble de-escalating, consider snacking on Olly Goodbye Stress gummies, which contain a blend of ingredients meant to mellow you out.
7) You had a fight with somebody close to you. You keep replaying the argument and stressing about what it means for your relationship.
The Calming Strategy: “Your emotions are heightened after a fight, which can lead to rumination,” Wilson says. To bring them back down, practice the STOP technique: Stop and pause before making any decisions, no matter how sure you feel. Take a step back to untangle yourself from any complicated fallout from the fight. Observe the situation from an objective perspective, and consider all the possible outcomes. Finally, proceed, with the knowledge that you have assessed the situation from multiple angles and are committed to acting rationally instead of emotionally.
8) You just finished an intense evening workout, and now you’re so keyed up that you can’t wind down.
The Calming Strategy: Completing a workout is a solid achievement, but so is getting the rest you need afterward. If you frequently find yourself unable to relax after physical activity, consider moving your workout to an earlier time of day or dialing down the intensity. If your schedule only allows you to train at night, “reserve several minutes for gentle stretching or calming yoga after your workout to help your body and mind relax,” Kain says.
9) It’s time for bed, but your brain is focused on your worries, making it hard to sleep.
The Calming Strategy: Try progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tense up and relax parts of your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head. Or give diaphragmatic breathing a shot. “It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to elicit a relaxation response,” Kain says. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Inhale through your nose until you feel your stomach expand—this lets you know that you’re breathing into your diaphragm. Then slowly exhale through your mouth and feel your stomach contract. Another solid option is incorporating a supplement with ingredients meant to relax into your nighttime routine, like Neuriva Relax & Sleep with Shoden Ashwagandha & L-Theanine.
10) You wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t stop ruminating on the future.
The Calming Strategy: Rumination is your brain’s way of trying to find an answer. “It’s in part a defense mechanism, where the limbic system and brain stem act to anticipate future threats and develop protective solutions,” says Danielle Kelvas, M.D., chief medical advisor to Sleepline, a website that provides resources for improving sleep. But the process can also cause distress and insomnia, which can trigger panic attacks and worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. To settle yourself down, Kelvas recommends practicing mindfulness meditation every night before bed. Over time, you’ll be able to see these sorts of thoughts coming from a distance, and understand that your brain is simply trying to protect you.
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