How to Calm Down When Life Is Too Stressful

Adebolanle Ade, MSW, RBT
Updated on January 9, 2022

Being worried and stressed is normal. Work, family responsibilities, financial challenges, and even health issues can leave you feeling stressed and living in survival mode. A little stress is good, but when you become overwhelmed with life’s demands, your ability to perform suffers immensely.

woman sitting calmly

Staying calm in the middle of a crisis is important. Research shows that a major difference between high performers and low performers is the ability to handle their emotions and stay calm under pressure.[1] High performers remain productive through stress.

There are several things you can do to stay calm and remain in control when life gets too stressful.

Breathe

You’ve probably heard the phrase “just breathe.” In fact, many people forget to breathe under pressure. Breathing is the most effective technique for reducing negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, worry, etc. When you feel stressed or angry at life, taking a quick shallow breath sends a positive signal to your brain, telling it to calm down. Taking deep breaths in the middle of a crisis helps the brain know that everything is okay, causing a positive feedback loop to begin.

To regain balance, you can practice breathing exercises. Take long and deep breaths from your nose, drawing them into your belly. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, emptying your belly. It only takes four to five deep breaths to feel calmer. With more oxygen flowing through your body, everything runs more efficiently, including your brain. Kids can also practice breathing exercises by counting backwards from ten, counting from one to ten, or blowing slowly (blowing bubbles is also an option).

Admit That You Need to Calm Down

When your fight-or-flight response (AKA sympathetic nervous system) kicks in, adrenal glands trigger the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones cause your body to start reacting to fear: your heart rate quickens, your body tenses, pupils dilate, and you are ready to act. Recognizing that this is a reaction to your feelings will help you calm down and challenge your thoughts.

Situations are easier to address when you label your feelings. Fight-or-flight mode can lead to irrational behaviors, so it is important to acknowledge your feelings. This will help you see things more clearly. Teaching children that these emotions are normal will make children more open to talking about them with their parents.

Walk Away

When you’re fighting for something or someone, you must ask yourself whether the result is worth it. Some victories bring more misery, and some battles cannot be won. Some people bring stress into your life. When you feel too stressed to handle a situation, walking away will allow you to calm down and readdress it later. You can’t tackle every situation, so you should look at every fight and decide whether walking away would be better.

Accept that not every situation and relationship is meant to be and know when to move on. Don’t be afraid to start over if it will remove unnecessary stress in your life. At the end of the day, your health and well-being should be your priority.

Teach your kids to walk away from situations that will cause them to lose control. Let them know that it takes more courage to walk away than to stay and fight. Remind them that success is managing emotions when they are mad.

Drink Some Water

All of our organs, including our brain, need water to function properly. Dehydration can cause stress or edginess. Drinking water can help reduce the intensity of anxiety. A Tufts University study found that hydration is linked to moods.[2] The study showed that student-athletes who were just mildly dehydrated reported feeling angry, confused, tense, and fatigued. Another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that dehydration influenced participants’ moods, energy levels, and ability to think clearly. The young men in the study experienced fatigue, tension, and anxiety when mildly dehydrated.[3]

Practice Muscle Relaxation Techniques

The progressive muscle relaxation technique is an exercise that will help ease the tension in your body, leaving you less stressed. You and your children can practice this at home. This technique focuses on different muscles, helping you relax them individually. If done properly, progressive muscle relaxation can release all the stress in your body in a couple of seconds.

Think It Through

A mantra can help you think before acting. Asking questions like, “will this matter to me this time next week?”, “how important is this?”, or “am I going to allow this person/situation to steal my peace?” will help ground you. You can then shift your focus and challenge any irrational thoughts.

Stay Calm

There are multiple ways to calm yourself down when you are stressed. You’ll need to find what is best for you. Some other ways to calm down are:

  • Taking a walk
  • Writing about the stressful event
  • Getting some fresh air
  • Exercising
  • Engaging in yoga
  • Meditating
  • Eating
  • Dropping your shoulders
  • Listening to music

Address Stressful Situations

Sometimes you have no choice but to address a stressful situation. In this case, use a few of these techniques to help you stay calm. As you address the situation, you may find stress returning, so it’s important to keep your emotions in check, focus on the positive, and repeat these steps throughout the process.

Final Thoughts

While stress is a normal part of life, it can be debilitating in certain situations. It’s important that everyone find the right technique for them for managing stress and calming down. This will help you perform optimally, even under stress.

If you suspect that you or your child might need extra help in handling anxiety and excessive worries, talk to a mental health professional or organization to find the assistance that is right for you.


References

  1. Osborne, M. S. (2016). Psychological skills to support performance under pressure. In A. Mornell (Ed.), Art in Motion III: Performing Under Pressure (pp. 93-114). Frankfurt, DE: Peter Lang.
  2. Ragovin, H. (2009, December 16). Drink (Water) and Be Happy. Tufts Journal. http://tuftsjournal.tufts.edu/2009/12_2/briefs/02/
  3. Pross, N., Demazières, A., Girard, N., Barnouin, R., Santoro, F., Chevillotte, E., Klein, A., & le Bellego, L. (2012). Influence of progressive fluid restriction on mood and physiological markers of dehydration in women. British Journal of Nutrition, 109(2), 313–321. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114512001080
Adebolanle Ade, MSW, RBT

Adebolanle Ade is a Mental Health Social Worker and Registered Behavioral Technician. She has many years of experience writing and advocating for mental health awareness.