How to Calm Down When You're About to Freak Out
Your face is getting hot, you can feel tears welling up in your eyes, there's a lump in your throat, and your chest is getting tight. Something set you off, and you're about to freak the eff out. Sometimes, you just need to let it all out—tears, snot, sobs, everything. (Don't hold back—there might even be some health benefits to those tears.) But when you're at work, at a fancy dinner, or in the middle of a yoga class, your Kim K. ugly-cry face isn't always an option.
That's where we come in—we've gathered tips from experts who know how you can keep cool and collected, even when your head feels like it's about to explode. Try these next time your boss gives you a scathing review or you catch your new fling on a date with someone else, then spread the wisdom when a friend is having a tough time.
This might be a "duh" moment, but when you're freaking out, the one thing you're probably forgetting to do is breathe. "When you slow, lengthen, and deepen your breath, your heart rate and blood pressure drop," says Emma Seppälä, Stanford psychologist and author of
The Happiness Track
. Breathing allows you to access the "rest-and-digest" parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight), says Seppälä, which produces a calming response.
But sometimes even breathing seems unmanageable. "Because it can be hard sometimes to calm yourself down, let someone lead you into a calmer state by using guided meditation, says Chrissy Carter, teacher at YogaWorks and an expert featured on Gaiam's Meditation Studio app. If you have a second to step away, Carter recommends trying a breath-centered meditation on the app. (Or try one of these 3 Breathing Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety, Stress, and Low Energy.)
Die (But Not Literally)
Die, as in do savasana (corpse pose). If you're not familiar with yoga, savasana is the pose at the end of a yoga class when everyone lays on the floor (ahem, what some people might say is the best part, and one of the 30 Reasons We Love Yoga).
"Research shows that lying down can calm an emotion like anger very fast," says Seppälä. "There is feedback from the body to the brain—if you're lying down, then everything must be ok."
This trick only works if you have the time and space to get horizontal. Because crawling under your desk to lay down may only worsen things, save this one for elsewhere.
This one is all about getting phsyical, and you have options depending on your environment. Carter suggests placing your hands on your body—one on your heart and one on your belly—so that you can feel and focus on you breath. Another option: Place both palms on your forehead and let your head rest in your hands. A third option (best not to do in public): "Stand facing a wall and place your forehead on a wall, which will offer a sense of support," Carter says. "Focus on feeling equal weight in both of your feet."
Sometimes, the best way to get out of your own head is to offer your hands to someone else. Seppälä suggests turning your attention to others by doing something for someone. "Not only will you stop freaking out, but you'll be uplifting someone else and, in the process, uplifting yourself and calming down," she says.
Not to others (though that's a good thing too), but to yourself. Once you recognize what is stressing or upsetting you,"ask yourself, 'How can I be kind to myself right now?'" says Elisha Goldstein, psychologist and author of
and co-founder of Center for Mindful Living in LA. That gesture of kindness could be calling a friend, talking a walk, or one of these other Ways to Get Happy—Instantly.
Break Out Your Journal
Whipping out a journal (or just jotting some notes in your iPhone or on a notepad) could be all it takes. "Often when we're frantic about something, it helps to step back, pause, and change the lens," says Patricia Karpas, host of
, a meditation podcast on the Meditation Studio app. "I like to write: Why am I frantic right now? Try answering five times and see how it changes."
Laughter can be the best medicine (even if you're laughing at yourself). "When we're down or in a frantic situation, we should just lift our hands and say 'woo hoo,'" says Karpas. "That simple act of fun (and it is kind of goofy) makes you smile, and smiling, quite frankly, changes everything."
If an outburst of the sort would concern co-workers or strangers on the street, opt for a happy dance or other celebratory gesture that fits the time and place. (Bonus: Your happiness might just boost your weight loss.)
Use a Token
Another way to get out of your head: Focus on something concrete and visual. Try a photo of you winning or accomplishing something to remind yourself that you've been successful in the past and can in the future, suggests Alyssa Dver, author of
Kickass Confidence: Own Your Brain. Up Your Game
. "Use it to re-track your confidence to remind you that you've got this," she says. Also, it's a perfect excuse to hang up those half-marathon race bibs (or pics from that vacation you worked hard to pay for) in your cube.