Need To Calm Down Now? Here's A Road Map
Life is full, and it moves fast.
Sometimes that fast-paced fullness can feel exhilarating—even fun!—but on a consistent basis, it feels more like stress. And that stress can cause some pretty intense and challenging emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, and loneliness, just to name a few. This consistent hum of background stress is a powerful force in our lives. It affects your ability to move on and properly process your feelings—a process required to live through and let go of past and present disappointments in the healthiest, most peaceful way possible.
But there's good news. While life will most likely always be fast-paced and full, it doesn't always have to be rough with stress and anxiety. The key to transcending these overwhelming emotions is the key to most of life's problems: mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness enables you to calm stress and soothe yourself. In a state of mindfulness, you make space to step back, reflect, and thoughtfully respond—rather than spontaneously react—to the varying ups and downs of life.
Blending the science of psychology and the magic of spirituality, I've developed six steps to help you acknowledge, understand, and transform worrisome emotions in a mindful way. By following the steps below, you'll be able to more easily let go of what no longer serves you and move on to greater compassion, confidence, and harmony:
1. Accept your emotions.
Emotions demand to be felt. So many of us try to avoid negative or intense emotions by ignoring them, but the only way they'll go away is by acknowledging and accepting that they're there in the first place. Ignoring what wants to be seen will only cause it to bubble up and explode later, creating more intense emotions or even causing a complete emotional shutdown.
Remember that your difficult emotions are a signal, a teacher with an important message. They are trying to help you wake up to what is going on inside (and perhaps, outside) of you before a major crisis occurs. Mindful acceptance of these emotions will allow you to not only see these signs but also treat yourself with greater self-understanding and compassion. Extend yourself the same kindness you would to an overwhelmed friend, and sit with and accept your emotions. Just be with the emotion: Don't ignore it, and don't push it away.
One way to become more fully aware of the emotion you're feeling is to notice where it lives in your physical body. You might feel it as a stomachache, shortness of breath, or jaw or muscle tension in your shoulders or back.
Chronic stress manifests itself in blockages, pain, tension, and rigidity in the connective tissue. Our body and spirit are made up of energy, and energy must be in motion and flowing to stay vital and clear. So much energy is held in our joints and tissues, especially stress and emotions from the past that has not been acknowledged, felt, and worked through. Pinpointing where the emotion is in your body, doing your best to let go, and being in the moment with the sensation are the keys to reducing that stress.
Studies show that when you sit mindfully with an emotion, it often passes within 90 seconds.
2. Name your emotions.
After my son was born, I felt a deep and chronic sense of anxiety, overwhelmedness, and some resentment that my life was no longer my own. Eventually I had to acknowledge and label my emotions so that my life wouldn't be run by them. So I allowed myself to get into the habit of asking myself direct questions about my feelings: Am I feeling sad? Am I feeling ashamed, angry, resentful?
It's important to remember that although you are pinpointing your emotion, you are not that emotion. It's the difference between saying "I am angry" and "I am feeling angry." One version is tied to your identity, and the other is simply a passing feeling.
So I would go within, name my emotion, and then say, "I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed right now, and that's OK. I am going to allow myself to just be with it."
Of course, all of my bad feelings didn't just go away—and on some occasions, they were still quite painful and disruptive—but pinpointing and labeling my feelings allowed me to take some of the fear out of what I was experiencing.
3. Recognize the impermanence of your emotions.
When you're in the middle of a tough season, it can be hard to remember that seasons come and go. It's the same with difficult emotions.
When you can remember and recognize the impermanence of your emotions—that you won't always feel this way forever—you will begin to experience them in a more fleeting manner, like clouds that pass by in the sky. They are here for a little while, and then they disappear.
Maintain that observer perspective and encourage the processing of those emotions with acts of loving kindness toward yourself. Ask yourself:
- What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?
- How can I nurture myself?
- What do I need right now?
Answering these questions (and following through on the insight) fosters deep connection with and compassion for yourself.
4. Investigate the origin.
Looking at and investigating the root of your negative emotions will help you gain critical insight into what you are experiencing. Take a moment to dive deep and explore what happened to cause this negative emotion in the first place. Maybe you are feeling angry or unappreciated or disconnected from a co-worker, a friend, or a romantic partner. Dig deep and get to the root cause.
Ask yourself: What is causing me to feel this way? Was it something I or someone else said, did, or didn't do?
Refuse to just "push through" and slog it out. Instead, take time to explore your emotions and create space for authentic answers.
5. Let go of control.
Another important key to mindfully dealing with your difficult emotions is to let go of your need to over-control or immediately "fix" them.
"But I'll feel so much better if they go away," you might say. "Why not get rid of them immediately?!"
Here's the thing: You don't need to expedite your way through negative emotions to also trust that you're going to be OK. Sure, it can be extremely uncomfortable to tolerate the anxiety of unresolved emotions, but moving through (rather than avoiding) tough stuff also cultivates personal depth.
Therapist and author Katherine Woodward Thomas once said, "Living with the questions requires us to sit with the messiness of what it is to be human without the ability to tidy everything up immediately. Sometimes this is what it is like when one is seeking wisdom."
When we try to micromanage our inner lives, we mess up the order of life. Nature has an innate intelligence, so allow the wisdom of the Universe to do what it does best. Meantime, do your best to be patient with your "messy" emotions. Open up to believing that all of life is supporting your ever-constant transformation—and try to believe that maybe, just maybe, sitting with your pain will guide you toward priceless insight and greater happiness.
6. Meditate with a mantra.
Meditating with a mantra is an immediate, effective, and easy way to relieve stress, control anxiety, and release pressure—providing long-lasting calming effects that you can take with you into your day. It has been clinically proven to decrease depression symptoms1, increase your happiness, improve immune function, and help you feel more socially connected and less stressed2. Even a small practice of three minutes a day will create greater peace and satisfaction with your relationships, creativity, and career.
Below, I've shared a simple but effective guided meditation to help you.
Remember: Being mindful about your emotions—becoming aware of them, acknowledging them, and meditating through them—is the only way to truly let go of them for good.
Primary effect: Lessen feelings of anxiety or pain and improve feelings of calm, centeredness, satisfaction, and harmony.
Posture: Sit cross-legged with a straight spine.
Mudra (hand position): Place the tip of the index finger against the tip of the thumb; keep the rest of the fingers straight.
Time: 3 minutes.
Instructions: Set an alarm on your phone for three minutes, and repeat this mantra: "Breathe in peace, love, forgiveness. Breathe out anything that no longer serves me."
End with three extended inhales and exhales:
Inhale. Stretch arms upward for 10 seconds, lengthening the spine, and exhale.
Dr. Danielle Dowling, Psy.D. is a doctor of psychology and life coach, helping ambitious, driven individuals achieve the financial, spiritual, and lifestyle abundance they dream about. She holds a bachelor's in business from American University, and her master's and doctor of psychology degrees from Ryokan College.
Dowling has spent years helping people live richer, more joyful lives. She has seen firsthand the magical pairing of psychology and life coaching, which allows people to access their happiest selves.