You’ve got to thank the body’s fight-or-flight response for the continuation of the human species. Without it early humans would have just lay down and waited any time they perceived a threat.
The physiological effects of the body's stress response is swift and automatic. Amongst them includes a surge in adrenaline, racing heartbeat, quickened thoughts, muscle twitches and more.
However these days you’re more likely to trigger a fight-or-flight reaction when faced with stress rather than danger.
The issues for us humans then become:
- How to deal with the physiological effects of the stress-response in an appropriate way;
- How to reduce the frequency of the stress-response. This is important as studies show chronic activation of the stress hormones is harmful to the body and mind.
Not one technique suits everyone and every situation however - so try some (or maybe all) of these instant calm techniques out yourself and see which one best suits you.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Australian mindfulness expert, Alison Hutchens says mindfulness meditation can have a profound impact on how we respond to stress.
“One of the beautiful things that I have found with Mindfulness is that it helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses,” Alison says, “we just need to practice."
Alison Hutchens from Mind Body Energy
So how do we get started with mindfulness?
Alison suggests putting aside at least ten minutes a day for a mindfulness meditation. However if you can’t commit to that length of time then do the best that you can (it’s better than nothing).
Should you lie or sit for mindfulness meditation?
“If you lie down you may drift off to sleep and that won’t work,” Alison says. “Just sit in a comfortable chair, make sure your spine is straight and your feet are resting comfortably on the floor.”
According to Alison this is a very basic introduction to Mindfulness Meditation. To make it easier to get started Alison's recorded a Mindfulness Basic Meditation which she suggests you do every day... and conveniently it comes in at just nine minutes long.
If you would like to explore the beautiful gift of mindfulness meditation and learn some more advanced techniques visit Alison and Mind Body Energy at: mindbodyenergy.com.au
2. Breathing Techniques
(For more information on the effects of shallow breathing on the body and mind see this article from Headpsace)
- Quells the body’s fight-or-flight response
- Soothes the nerves
- Can recentre your mind
- Helps to slow the heartbeat
- Lowers or stabilises blood pressure
For more useful breath techniques to induce instant calm see this article from Healthline.com.
I love affirmations for their ability to change how I think and how I feel.
One of the most famous proponents of affirmations was Louise Hay, a leader in the New Thought movement. Louise espoused the mind/body connection and taught how to heal the body (or life in general) by first healing the mind. Affirmations were a tool she used to change negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with their positive counterpart, thus allowing the body (or life condition) to more easily heal itself.
How does an affirmation work?
According to Ronald Alexander Ph.D. on Psychology Today, “An affirmation can work because it has the ability to program your mind into believing the stated concept. This is because the mind doesn't know the difference between what is real or what is fantasy."
I have always said that the subconscious mind has no sense of humour, so you need to be very cautious about the words you speak about yourself (and others), even if you are just joking around.
For an affirmation to be its most effective, it needs to be:
- Believable to you
- Presented in positive terms, e.g. “I will do such as such” rather than “I won’t do such and such”
- Presented in the first person
- Spoken out loud with conviction multiple times a day
Below are some suggested affirmations to help you feel calmer. If none of them 'click' for you, come up with your own and then repeat it often so that you'll be able to easily recall it when the need arises.
If I asked you what ‘calm’ looks like for you what would you say?
If you can get your calming visual clear enough in your mind you'll be able to break your attention away from what's bothering you. If the visualisation is held for long enough it will soothe your nervous system, lower your heart rate and help you to feel more in control.
The key with this one is to practice it often enough so that you can recall it easily and at-will.
What should I visualise for instant calm?
Visualise whatever feels calming to you, or take a look at the suggestions below.
How to make your visualisation more powerful
- Find somewhere comfortable to practice visualising your scene, so you can feel already calm when doing it
- Practice visualising your ‘calm’ scene often, so that you become familiar with it
- Involve all of your senses, so as to make it seem more real
5. Go for a Walk
When I worked in the corporate world we called it ‘going for a blocker’. When tension got too much we’d jump up from the desk, get outside and take a brisk walk around the block.
You can’t beat physical exercise in fresh air for a rapid change of state. Why?
- It focuses your mind on something other than what’s stressing you out
- Exercise releases endorphins which are the human body’s own tranquiliser
- You feel less stressed after exercise
- More oxygen gets pumped throughout your body so you feel physically better
6. Tensing then relaxing your body
This is an excellent technique for relaxing your body very quickly making it useful for stress release and also for getting into the calm zone for meditation.
What you do is tense your body up as much as you can (don’t forget your fingers and jaw), hold it for a few seconds and then release. You will be surprised at how relaxed every part of your body now feels.
This is best done while sitting down or lying down (not standing up).
7. Calming / Mindfulness Apps
Personally I have not tried any of these apps so can't vouch for their efficacy at bringing about calm, however these two mindfulness apps have thousands of five star reviews and are well regarded by the masses.
Calm: an award winning app with over 100,000 reviews and rated 4.7 out of 5. It offers (along with guided meditations and sleep stories), breathing programs and stretching exercises to reduce anxiety and lower stress.
Headspace: Meditation and Sleep. Their SOS sessions ‘for moments of panic, anxiety and stress’ sound like they would be useful for when you need instant calm
Both of these mindfulness apps are available in the Appstore for free download.
8. Stretching Exercises
ConclusionNot many of us are born with an innately calm nature. For the rest of us mere mortals all we can do is try to reduce our triggers and learn to manage our stress responses better. A holistic approach to wellbeing coupled with a regular mindfulness practice can help to create a calmer you.
Have you tried any of these calm techniques yourself? Which one do you use the most? Are there any calm techniques we’ve missed that you are interested in? Let us know in the comments section below, we would love to hear from you!