20 Easy Ways to Calm Yourself Down

Whether it’s a confrontation with a loved one or preparing for a big presentation at work, we’ve all had moments that make you want to scream and run away. Suddenly, the oh-so-familiar physiological rollercoaster starts: heart rate rising, heavy breathing, palms sweating… a rush of hormones and bodily functions that elicit anger or anxious feelings. Tense situations trigger our stress response, leaving us frazzled.

And soon, what you were most worried about has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: forget about having a smooth presentation when you’re anxious! And if you’ve been concerned about the strength of your relationship with a partner or family member, losing your cool at them certainly isn’t the best bonding behavior.

When you’re having “one of those days,” staying calm feels impossible. But you can learn how to calm yourself down during stressful moments. To help you, we’ve put together a list of 20 ways to prevent stress from getting the upper hand.

Your stress response in a nutshell

You may experience stress as a single, nerve-wracking event, but it actually has two components: the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

  1. Sympathetic nervous system: This is your body’s rapid response to stress, which triggers the release of adrenaline. Your increased heart rate and blood pressure are telltale signs that your sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
  2. HPA axis: This is a slower response to stress which promotes the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Your HPA axis influences energy production, blood sugar levels, sleep/wake patterns and suppresses inflammation.

So what happens after you’ve gone through the ringer, so to speak, with these two responses? The progressive muscle relaxation and calming emotion you feel when you’re no longer stressed is thanks to your parasympathetic nervous system. It counteracts your stress response and works to calm the body down, release muscle tension, slow down breathing and your heartbeat. Your blood pressure should then return to its previous levels.

What can stress do to the body?

Granted, we’re not painting a rosy picture of what it feels like to be stressed. That being said, stress in and of itself is not the “villain” in your wellness journey. According to Life Extension’s Education Scientist, Dr. Vanessa Pavey, ND, stress is actually just the body’s physiological response to what is going on around us. It gets triggered by the perception of threat or demand—whether that threat is a car swerving dangerously into your lane, or that your coworkers will be bored by your PowerPoint.

“If we believe we are being challenged, our bodies will release a cocktail of hormones to give us a burst of energy and alertness to deal with the situation at hand,” explained Dr. Pavey. “There’s a burst of energy that comes with an increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (away from the digestive tract); the pupils dilate, and blood sugar levels increase to meet the energy demand, preparing you to act.”

This can be very helpful—in specific circumstances. That “fight-or-flight” response comes in handy when dealing with short-term events like dodging a football or outrunning a predator (you know, way back in the days when we could get eaten by a large animal).

The problem arises when those stressful feelings are left unmanaged and continue over time, which can lead to chronic stress, according to Dr. Pavey. This can negatively affect mental health, impact hormone balance, disrupt sleeping patterns, suppress immune function, and more. “Feeling constantly overwhelmed can add to the magnitude of work-related stress and work-life imbalance,” she explained.

Is there a difference between stress and burnout?

Yes! We can experience stress in all aspects of life, but burnout refers primarily to the stress we experience at work.

In your job, burnout can happen when your mind knows that a threat (such as a missed deadline) has been averted, but your body is still dealing with muscle tension, nervous energy, and stress hormones like cortisol that started plaguing you when you first became worried that you’d never turn in your project in time.

And because everyone has a unique biology, the severity of work-related stress can vary from person to person. Some people can thrive in a high-pressure environment, while others do better at a slower pace.

Pro tip: Take a moment for yourself when you leave work; when you sign off for the day, your mind may move on to other things, but your body needs time to catch up.

What are the three types of stress?

Stress feels differently to everyone, but generally speaking, there are three distinct ways your body manifests stress, according to Dr. Pavey:

1. Acute stress

Acute stress occurs when you encounter a sudden and sometimes unexpected stressor—think bad news about a relative, losing a job, your wallet being stolen. You may experience:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing
  • Sweating, pale, or flushed skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea, heartburn, or other GI disturbances

2. Chronic stress

This is a prolonged and unbalanced expression of the stress response that becomes detrimental to your health. You may experience:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Low energy, fatigue or difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in mood and or feelings of depression or anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Susceptible to getting sick due to a weakened immune system

3. Burnout

As we mentioned earlier, this form of stress is associated with your occupation. You may experience:

  • Lack of energy and productivity
  • Lack of work satisfaction or feeling cynical
  • Difficulty concentrating or trouble getting started at work
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Unexplained headaches, GI issues, or other physical complaints

20 stress management strategies

Now that you understand your stress response a little better, let’s go over some stress management strategies to help you stay calm. Check out these 20 easy ways to decompress from stress.

1. Take a deep breath

Deep breath in. Pause. Exhale. Our breathing gets irregular and shallow when we’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a natural response to a stressful situation. Our minds can get tangled up in a whirlwind of thought and emotion, which often leads to anxious feelings. When we focus on our breath, we can use it as a tool to come back to the present moment. By calming rushed thoughts, slowing our breathing, and relaxing our muscles, we help the body ground itself and return to balance.

Pro tip: Your mind and gut are intimately connected; doing belly breathing exercises can have nerve-calming effects.

2. Clear your headspace

You don’t need to be a yogi to access the quieting effects of meditation. One of the key aspects of this ancient practice is to bring yourself to be still. Focusing the mind on the present moment and releasing anxious thoughts can calm the nervous system. When you adopt meditation as a daily practice, it can have long-term, whole-body health benefits.

3. Take a step back and prioritize

Remember, not everything that’s pending needs your immediate attention. If you try to focus on all your tasks at once, you’ll probably give yourself a panic attack…at the very least, you won’t get much done! The next time work deadlines or house dynamics feel daunting, figure out what really is urgent, and what can wait. Make a list of all the projects due that week (or day), and number them according to their relevance. For example, if you’re presenting to your team in the next hour, you’d make that your “number 1” priority, while a report due the next day can wait for your attention until after the meeting. The same applies at home: if you focus on cooking dinner, laundry can wait until the next day.

4. Visualize your happy place

Sometimes just closing your eyes and reliving a peaceful moment can help calm your nerves. The thing about the brain—that mushy collection of brain cells and neurotransmitters—is that it can actively focus on one thing at a time. When you consciously change your focus to a happy memory, you’re tuning out the stress of the present moment. This gives you some control in a stressful situation.

5. Keep your hands busy

You know what they say, “Busy hands, distracted mind.” Ok, that may not be a saying, but a large body of research does show that working with your hands (like knitting or doing arts & crafts) may help ease stressful situations and improve your mood. As Dr. Pavey explained, using your hands to create an end product may also help boost neurotransmitters like serotonin, fostering feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.

6. Smile

Is your stressful day all over your face? Well, our faces do have more than 42 muscles, and when we’re anxious, many of us carry a lot of the tension right where everyone can see it. The solution? Smiling, which uses different facial muscles than, say, clenching your jaw or knitting your brow. Slapping on a goofy grin when you’re not sure if you’ll make it to daycare pickup on time may feel counterintuitive, but there’s a method to the madness: your brain must make a conscious effort to use different muscles and relax others when you switch from grimacing to smiling. The end result? You’ll ease muscle tension, softening the face, which will help you stay calm. Plus, research has shown that it also benefits heart health.

Pro tip: Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Relax your eyebrows, unclench your jaw, release tension around your chin and mouth.

7. Clean or do house chores

There’s no better time to tackle a pile of dishes than when you need to blow off some steam. Focusing your attention on repetitive movements can have a meditative quality which can help relieve stress. Plus, your body will release endorphins from all that hard work of vacuuming, washing, and thoroughly cleaning your home. If it feels like a workout, that’s because it is!

8. Cuddle your pooch

Nothing warms your heart like looking into your furry companion’s eyes and seeing all the unconditional love they have for you. When you give them a tight squeeze, it sends a rush of “happy hormones,” which have the magical power of calming any nervous energy. “Physical contact activates the parasympathetic system and boosts serotonin and oxytocin, brain chemicals associated with feelings of contentment,” Dr. Pavey explained. It’s probably not surprising that research shows pet owners tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

9. Pamper yourself with aromatherapy

They don’t call it “aromatherapy” for nothing! Using essential oils like lavender, orange peel or sage can help create a calm and relaxing environment. And sometimes the most soothing smells are ones that remind you of comforting places. Your brain works by association, and familiar smells—whether it’s the soap your grandmother used, or the beachy scent of your childhood vacation spot—can promote calming feelings.

10. Schedule some “me time”

Peace of mind can be a commodity in our modern times of constant stimulation and productivity demands. Acknowledging your needs is an essential form of self-care, so go ahead and block off a half hour on your calendar every day to decompress from daily stress. This will come in handy…especially when you’re having a rough day!
Whether it’s a much-needed massage or curling up with a good book, do something that makes you happy. Knowing you’ll have your favorite meal for dinner, or that you’ll make time for your Zumba class after work gives you something to look forward to, releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin and can help relieve stress.

11. Dance

You don’t have to be a professional salsa dancer to sway your body to the rhythm of music. And it doesn’t have to be salsa, either! Play your favorite song and let the music move you. Feel the stress leaving your body as you dance along your favorite tune.

12. Listen to soothing music

If you’re not much of a dancer, putting on your headphones and playing a calming melody (maybe put on some classical music), can help you navigate through an emotionally draining day. Research has shown that music can be effective at reducing physiological and psychological stress.

13. Spend time in nature

Nature is medicine; there’s a reason we feel better when we retreat into nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life! Birds singing, wind caressing your skin, a breath of fresh air, open blue skies…what could be more healing? A large body of research shows that nature positively impacts mental health. It also helps boost dopamine levels, one of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters.

14. Stretch

It’s no secret that body movement and exercise can help release muscle tension and reduce stress. But if you’re not up for a full workout, doing static and active stretches or yoga can help reduce stress by prompting you to be present and focus on your movements and breathing.

15. Mantras and affirmations

Having a go-to phrase or mantra when you notice your patience running thin can be a great way to calm yourself down when you’re anxious or upset. It can also help “rewire” the brain to adapt a more positive outlook when you start getting stressed.

16. Keep a gratitude journal

When we bring our attention to “the silver lining” in stressful situations and remember things we’re grateful for, our brains adapt and become more resilient to stress. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially in an emotion-driven moments, but with practice it gets easier to steer through those stressful situations and handle them in a healthy way.

17. Tapping

Lightly tapping your forehead (or your chest) can help calm your nervousness and stress. Known as Emotional Freedom Technique, this evidence-based therapeutic method can helps address anxiety, depression and reduce stress.

18. Call a friend

As Dr. Pavey explained, loneliness is a form of psychological stress that can worsen cardiovascular concerns. Social isolation can also impact mental health and keep you on edge, which can inhibit the body from handling stress in a healthy way. Calling a friend (or your mom) can help you navigate what’s causing tension in your day. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to catch up with someone you care about.

19. Take a brisk walk

Going for a walk is a quick way to manage stress. Not only are you physically removing yourself from what’s causing you stress (literally!), but the exercise also gives your mind and body time to calm down. You can sort through pesky thoughts, and even figure out a solution.

20. Get some help from herbs

Health really starts with what you eat. Research shows nutrients like ashwagandha, magnesium, and green tea’s amino acid l-theanine help promote relaxation, have a calming effect on mental health, and even promote restful slumber. Speak with your doctor to find other nutrients that can complement your efforts to manage stress in a healthy way.


Checkout our Face Yoga for Stress Relief and More video for a quick way to release tension and boost your skincare routine.

About the Author: Jessica Monge has a bachelor's degree in biological sciences & neuroscience and a master's degree in comparative studies and related languages from Florida Atlantic University. She worked as a tutor, freelance writer and editor before joining Life Extension, where she is currently a Digital Content Writer.