It’s ok to not have it all under control sometimes.
The world can stress us out in a big way. And we can find ourselves overcome by anger, panic, or at worst, despair.
But in these moments, no matter how powerful the feelings become, you always have a choice. There’s always a way to get back to being clear, focused, and ready to handle your challenges in a productive way.
Here are some key ways to calm yourself down when you’re experiencing an emotional crisis.
The Most Important Strategy: Becoming Aware of Your Feelings
Becoming mindful of your emotional state allows you to not be carried away by your feelings.
You cannot separate yourself from your emotions (they are, after all, a legitimate part of you that’s reacting strongly in the present moment), nor would you want to.
However, you can always be aware of them. You can notice when they rise up, and you can make note of what makes them occur. Developing this awareness is a major principle of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
Our emotions persist the longest when we consciously or subconsciously try to suppress them. That’s why allowing your feelings to be felt is a great strategy for getting them to pass along.
This does not mean you let your feelings drive your actions, only that you develop an awareness of your feelings so that you can come to work with them.
Here’s a useful process from mindfulness meditation teacher Tara Brach for dealing with difficult emotions. It’s called RAIN.
R: Recognize — This is seeing that your emotions are starting to overwhelm you, and labeling them as they are. You could say, “upset, confused, furious, hurt, scared.”
A: Allow — This is you taking whatever you’re feeling and saying “Ok.” You accept that it’s how you feel at that moment. This moment of awareness is what gives you the power and freedom to act, as you are not fully captured by the wave of emotion anymore.
I: Investigate — Investigating means finding the part of yourself that wants your attention. It is “asking” your feelings about what’s drumming them up. It’s identifying false beliefs you might be having about yourself, and finding out what the most vulnerable part of yourself needs; e.g., attention, understanding, affection, safety.
N: Nurture — This is offering yourself compassion and giving yourself what you need. You could say, “I’m right here with you,” or “We’re going to get through this right now.” This is you learning to be there for yourself, even if you’ve never done so before, and even if you never had people in your life to give you this kind of nurturing.
Strategies like RAIN will give you clarity in moments of crisis so that you can get through them gracefully. In essence, it is coming to your own rescue.
Let’s look at other useful strategies for calming down during a crisis that are practical and easy to remember.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Personal crises are often hard to talk about. You might be afraid that others won’t understand, judge your worries, or dismiss your problems entirely.
A person who does not want to “cause problems”, “make a scene” or “make people worry” contains their pain within themselves until it starts to boil over.
If you’re having a crisis, don’t let it get to this point. Sometimes all you need is the willing ear of a friend or a loved one to break you out of your mindstate. As psychologist Brené Brown said:
“Shame cannot survive empathy.”
In your most vulnerable moments, your feelings get revealed. That’s when they have the greatest potential to change.
Tell someone you can trust, or a therapist, or share your pain in an online forum.
Other people’s perspectives, and more importantly, their understanding, could be the key to overcoming your crisis. They will allow you to see yourself and the world in fresh ways.
Don’t let it persist any longer. Tell a friend. Talk.
Music can bring a special kind of comfort to a person in crisis. In fact, 57% of Americans voted in 2020 that music was the most common way that they handled stressful situations.
Music can calm you down by bringing you to another realm, inspiring you to act, crying with you, or making you feel like it’s you against the world.
So to calm down in a crisis, lay down, play something you love, and let it take you away.
Music is one of those things you could equate to a divine gift. And listening to your favorite track at the right moment may even save your life.
3. Walks and Reflection
The health benefits of physical exercise and being in nature aside, let’s look at why walking is a simple yet powerful way to calm your mind in a stressful moment.
Walking creates a kind of relief valve for difficult emotions. As you move around physically like all humans were designed to do, you let your feelings shake themselves out, and it gives your mind a chance to breathe.
Taking a walk brings about what Stoicism researcher Ryan Holiday calls “stillness.”
Here’s how he defines it:
To be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude — exterior, and interior — on command.
In stillness, you can spontaneously think of solutions to your issues, you can listen to what your mind needs (see RAIN), and you can remember the difficult emotional storms you have made it through in the past.
If you can, taking a walk might be your best medicine. It’s free, it’s natural, and it will help you get to the heart of the problem.
Writing is healing even if you aren’t a writer.
Write out everything you’re feeling. Write everything you need to say and more in a fit of writing fury. What comes out will surprise you.
But that’s the key. Writing out your difficult feelings gives them a sense of finality. You are literally getting things off your mind when you write them down.
That’s why there is so much evidence to show that writing helps people heal.
Calming Yourself Down Is a Gentle Art Form
Now you have many strategies for calming a stormy mind that are cheap and accessible to almost everyone.
But remember: the most important aspects of not getting overwhelmed will always be awareness and self-understanding.
You need to listen to your feelings so that you can understand your trigger points, your unmet needs, your limiting beliefs, and the most vulnerable parts of yourself.
So sit with your crisis, breathe with it, and hear what it has to tell you.