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What are some ways I can calm down quickly when I'm feeling overwhelmed?

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Updated July 25, 2014

Young woman in Amsterdam
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Question: What are some ways I can calm down quickly when I'm feeling overwhelmed?
"Sometimes I don't realize how much stress is building up until I suddenly feel overwhelmed. Other times, several stressful or attention-demanding events will happen at once, and I suddenly go from calm to completely overwhelmed really quickly. However it happens, how can I quickly calm down when I'm feeling overwhelmed by stress?"
Answer: There are many ways to calm down quickly when you suddenly get blindsided by stress and feel overwhelmed. The following are five quick and easy ways to regain your calm so you can deal with whatever situations are at hand:

Take a Walk

Exercise can be a great stress reliever in itself, as it helps you blow off steam and releases endorphins. Taking a walk when stressed can bring you the benefits of exercise--both short-term and long-term, and it provides the bonus of getting you out of the stressful situation. This can provide you with some perspective so you can return in a new frame of mind. Walking with a good friend can be a nice way to find social support, and walking alone can provide you with some time to think, reframe, and return with a more optimistic frame of mind. (Learn more about the benefits of exercise here.)

Take a Breath

If you're not in a position to leave, you can feel better right away by practicing breathing exercises. Getting more oxygen into your body and releasing physical tension are two ways that breathing exercises can benefit you, and you can do them anytime or anywhere, even if your demanding situation isn't letting up. (Learn more about breathing exercises here.)

Take a Mental Break

If you can steal away a few minutes of peace, visualizations and guided imagery are a wonderful way to restore peace of mind. They're easy to do, and can relax you physically as well as mentally. With practice, you can easily access your "happy place" and quickly feel more calm when stressed. (Learn more about visualizations and guided imagery here.)

Reframe Your Situation

Sometimes we intensify our experience of stressful situations by the way we look at them. If you can look at your situation differently, you may be able to put it into a different perspective--one that causes you less stress! Read more about mental and emotional stress that can be caused by pessimism, type A traits, and other self-sabotaging thought patterns, and learn how you can change the way you look at things. It'll come in handy when you're stressed. (Learn more about mental stress and self sabotage here.)

Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique where you tense and release all of your muscle groups, leaving your body feel more relaxed afterward. PMR is one of my favorite techniques, as it can be done by just about anyone, and with practice you can fully release virtually all the tension you're feeling in your body in a matter of seconds! This can help you feel more calm and better able to handle the situations at hand. (Learn how to practice PMR here.)

Once you've been able to calm down, you should be in a better position to address whatever stressful situations you're expriencing. It's also a good idea to adopt a few regular stress relievers and healthy lifestyle habits so that you can reduce your overall stress level so that you experience less stress and are less bothered by the stressful situations you do encounter.

You may also want to sign up for this site's Stress Management Newsletter to get ongoing resources on stress relief, or use this quick self assessment tool to find stress relievers that would work best for your personality and lifestyle.

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