How to rediscover your calm in times of stress

Schedule sanity time (Alamy/PA)
Schedule sanity time (Alamy/PA)

Feel like your sense of calm has completely gone, and stress has become a daily companion?

“Many life factors can disrupt your ‘calm’. Work stress, financial pressure, studying, balancing family life, and even navigating traffic or public transport during rush hour can be difficult daily,” says Courtney Greene, regional lead occupational therapist at Cygnet Health Care.

“We can experience stress and pressure from many directions – partners, parents, siblings, children, family, bosses, colleagues, teachers, mentors, and society in general.”

Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to help.

“In order to remain ‘steady’ and ‘balanced’ during times of increased stress, we need to make small changes and practice these regularly to maintain our desired level of ‘calm’,” says Greene.

“Schedule ‘sanity time’ in your diary- a time where you can reflect ‘regroup’ and plan,” she suggests. In the meantime, here are some fast-tracks to calm to incorporate into your day….

Try hand breathing

“Hand breathing is where you hold up your non-dominant hand in front of you, and with your dominant hand trace around each finger one at a time. Breathe in as you trace up the finger, and breathe out as you trace down the other side,” explains Greene. “Complete this on all five fingers, and start again if still required.”

Use a soothing mantra

Another option is using a mantra or affirmation, which can add another layer of calm to some deep breathing exercises. Greene suggests: “Practice deep breathing while repeating your mantra, such as: ‘Breathing in calm, breathing out tension’, or, ‘This too shall pass’.”

Focus on your senses

Another grounding technique is focusing your attention on your five senses. You could do this anywhere – on a busy train, for example – or you could get outside for a quick walk and give it a go.

“Think about what you can see, like photos or videos, what you can smell, like perfumes and essential oils, touch, taste, hear…,” explains Greene.

Put pen to paper

Many people swear by the calming capabilities of journaling. Don’t overthink it – just sit down and write down what’s on your mind in that moment, or list what’s worrying you. It can be helpful to “get your stressful thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper”, explains Greene.

Get up and move

Stress levels rising? “Get moving,” says Green. “When you are stressed, you produce a stress hormone. It is important to use up these stress hormones in some way, so they can be dispersed in a healthy way, and not just stay in your body causing stressful physical symptoms.

“You could break up your work day by having a walk at lunch, or plan a trip to the gym first thing in the morning or in the evening. Use a YouTube video at home and follow an online exercise class.”

Go easy on the caffeine

Coffee and calm do not tend to go hand-in-hand – so if you frequently feel jittery and on edge, it could be worth cutting back.

“Drinking caffeine releases adrenaline, which is the source of your ‘flight or fight’ response,” says Greene. “This can give you an instant boost, but maintaining that requires more coffee, which may result in you spending the day in an agitated state and feeling ‘on edge’ at night.”

Step away from your phone

Technology has made it all too easy for us to be ‘switched on’ at all times, often preventing us from truly de-stressing day-to-day.

“Stop making yourself so freely available,” suggests Greene. “The amount of technology we use on a daily basis results in us living in a state of constant stimulation and within reach at all times. To build awareness of your smartphone or internet use, consider checking your daily screen time, and setting yourself goals to reduce this.”

Prioritise your sleep routine

One of the biggest fixes for managing stress and anxiety is getting enough sleep.

Green says: “It is important to establish a healthy sleep routine. Try and follow the same routine every night. Limit screen time before bed, instead swap it for a book. If you do have any caffeine, set yourself a cut-off point during the day and switch to decaf closer to bedtime,” she adds. “You can use guided meditations for sleep, and essential oils or sleep sprays to help you enter a state of relaxation, which may help you fall asleep.”