7 Proven Strategies to Calm Frayed Nerves When Stress Invades Your Day

Everyday in my Release Your Baggage practice, I help people release emotions that come from difficult, stressful times. Clients often ask, “What can I do when the stress gets intense so I’m not creating baggage that I have to deal with later?”

The techniques I’m about to share can make a big difference. They’ve been researched and have been proven to calm anxious nerves so you feel more balanced, grounded and in control. When that happens, you’ll think more clearly, be more resourceful, and make decisions you won’t regret later.

The key to gaining control when you’re feeling stressed out is to learn and use techniques such as these that work for you.

Consider this scenario.

You’re late for work. It took longer to leave home than you intended and then traffic was bad. When you finally make it into the office, you have a call from an unhappy client who lets you know just how unhappy they are. ‘Oh, that was painful!’ Then, when it’s time for lunch, you realize you left your wallet at home. Yikes! You borrow money for lunch from a co-worker. On the way to grab a quick bite, it begins to rain, and you don’t have an umbrella!

This scenario is called stair-casing. One incident piles on top of another throughout the day causing stress levels to rise higher and higher. Your heart beats faster, you feel anxious, overwhelm gets intense, and you are feeling angry and helpless.

The busy lives we lead create a lot of stress no matter if it’s one incident, many, or if it’s chronic stress.  Unfortunately, the 2015 Stress in America report from the American Psychological Association tell us that our stress is not lessening over time. In fact, their report show quite the opposite:

  • Extreme stress in 2014 was reported at 18% and rose to 24% in 2015.
  • More people reported their health as “fair or poor”: 23% in 2015 vs. 20% in 2014.
  • People reporting at least one chronic illness increased as well: 67% in 2015 vs. 60% in 2014.

The problem with stress is the many ways our bodies can be affected by it. Think of tension headaches, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, poor sleep, and lowered immunity.

Then there’s the irritability, nervousness, and even depression that can lead to regretable decisions that can lead to bad habits—too much food, alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behaviors.

What can we do about it?

First let’s look at what hinders our ability to deal with stress:

  • Caffeine and other stimulants
  • Overindulging or abstaining from food
  • Isolating ourselves from others
  • Ruminating on our problems
  • Physical inactivity

Now let’s talk solutions.

I recently heard William J. Sieber, PhD., Clinical Professor and Researcher at the University of California-San Diego, speak on the subject of “Calming the Overactive Brain.” He presented relatively easy and highly effective ways to manage stress and anxiety.

Dr. Sieber discovered that it’s not just one thing that you do that makes a difference, but rather several things done together consistently. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on any of them.

Read through these ideas. Decide which ones you want to use. Then print them out and put it where you can find it when it’s needed.

“The rule is to do lots of little stress reducing things – often and consistently.”  Dr. Sieber

#1 Breathe

Inhale deeply through the nose, filling the belly.  Exhale through the mouth so the belly folds inward. Count as you inhale.  Count as you exhale to a count greater than you inhaled.  For example, breathe in to a count of 3 then breathe out to a count of 4.

Why?  When we’re under stress, breathing becomes more shallow which means the body is not getting the oxygen it needs.  Deep breathing helps oxygenate the brain, reduces anxiety and tension, reduces the workload on the heart, detoxifies carbon dioxide (which is a by-product of metabolism), strengthens the immune system, aids digestion, boosts energy and stamina, and much more.

#2 Awareness

Check in with your body and notice how it feels. Is your stomach churning? Are your neck and shoulders tight? Notice how your body is speaking to you without judgement.

Why? You can’t change what you don’t notice. When you’re self-aware, you can begin self-care to lessen your anxiety and its physical effects. Great options are meditation, being kind to yourself, getting a massage, listening to soothing music, taking a yoga class and more.

#3 Label it: Give voice to your feelings   

Notice and name how you’re feeling. As you notice it, say it to yourself “I’m angry,” “I’m afraid,” “I’m overwhelmed,” “I’m irritated.”

Why? The act of acknowledging your emotions enables it to move from the amygdala, which is the “fight or flight” area of the brain, into the conscious, pre-frontal cortex of the brain where higher level decisions can take place.  Think of it as moving from reaction to thoughtfulness where reasoning and higher function take place.

#4 Move: Raise your heart rate

As soon as possible after an anxiety-filled situation, start a 2- to 3-minute exercise. Do jumping jacks. Climb a few flights of stairs. Dance to a high-energy song. Run down the street. If that is not an option, try walking or do stretching exercises. Do whatever you can to move.

Why? The brain releases “feel good” chemicals that ease depression and anxiety. Research shows that people who use this technique report significantly fewer stress-related symptoms.

#5 Control: What can you control

Ask yourself “What can I control in this moment?” Look both internally and externally. Instead of focusing on how bad you feel, look for opportunities and options to help turn things around.  Second, what can be done externally to problem solve?  Who will you communicate with and how?  What actions can you take?

Why? When there’s a perception you’ve lost control, it creates feelings of helplessness that can lead to stress-related conditions. Identifying what you can control and take action helps not only the current situation, but gives you proof you can conquer problems in the future.

#6 Connection: Reach out

Reach out in person or by phone to a friend, colleague or family member. Find someone you can talk to, who will listen, and who can give you a fresh perspective.

Why? Support is one of the most important actions you can take.  Sharing and connecting helps improve the immune system.

#7 Self-Care: Meditate   

Think of meditation as a stress-reduction break. Begin a regular practice for the many ways it enhances health and well-being.

Why? To name just a few of the many benefits, a Johns Hopkins study suggests that doing meditation rivals the effectiveness of antidepressants. Research has also found it lowers the subjectiveness of anxiety, improves attention and concentration, and helps preserve the aging brain.

Now, let’s take a moment to think about the scenario mentioned at the beginning. Using these techniques, what could’ve been done to feel more relaxed and calm?

  1. Breathe: Feel a sense of relief.
  2. Awareness: Notice the tension in your neck. Stretch to help relieve the tension.
  3. Label It: Acknowledge your feelings. “I’m angry.” “I’m overwhelmed.”
  4. Move: Take a break. Find a staircase to run up and down for 2 to 3 minutes to get your heart rate up.
  5. Control: Internally, “What’s the opportunity in this situation? How can I turn lemons into lemonade?” Externally, start problem solving. “I’ll set my alarm 30 minutes earlier…I’ll implement the plan to help out my client…I’ll ask a friend for a loan so I can go to lunch.”
  6. Connection: Speak to a supportive colleague.
  7. Self-Care: Attend a yoga class this evening and make an appointment for a massage. It feels good just thinking about it.

These are just a few ideas to help calm the overactive brain. Choose your techniques and let me know how it works for you.  Stay tuned for my next newsletter for more strategies. Be well!

Author Allison Johnson