The worst thing anyone can do when you’re stressed or anxious is tell you to “calm down.”. Gee thanks. Obviously, you would if you could! Too bad there isn’t a little button you can press every time you feel anxiety creep up. Then you could just “be calm”.

While this button doesn’t exist, there are other powerful exercises you can do to drastically reduce your anxiety and stress. If you ever watched a professional runner before a race, you’ll often notice them pacing, stretching, or shaking their hands. They’re doing this to release all their nervous energy and to mentally and physically prepare themselves for the task ahead. Singers and other performers will use deep calming breaths to centre themselves before going on stage. This moment of relaxation is crucial for your brain. If you think of your brain like a muscle, you’ll know that if it is constantly under strain, it won’t work as well.

So take a moment.

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You might not be a professional athlete or a performer, but you can use similar techniques to calm yourself in a stressful situation. These exercises are tools you can use at any time, so if you start to feel anxious at home, or at school, before a big test, or before a first date; use these tools to think clearer, improve your focus, and to feel more steady.

1: Practice calm breathing.

When your brain thinks you’re in a scary situation you can’t psych yourself into a fight-or-flight response. Trick your brain into becoming calmer through slow breathing. Some people like to breathe in through their nose, and out through their mouth. However, the only important thing is that you do whatever feels comfortable and that you breathe slowly.

2: Practice Mindfulness.

If you find yourself feeling stressed out the future or deadlines, practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means to dwell in the present moment exactly as it is. It becomes very difficult to feel anxious about the future if you are completely focused on the present.

3: Take A (Mental) Vacation.

Transport yourself in your mind to a place where your worries hold no power over you. Some people like to envision a white sandy beach, others a place they used to visit in childhood. There is no right or wrong place, just go somewhere where you feel completely safe. Close your eyes and visualize that place. Notice the details and dwell on them. Take your mental vacation for about two minutes, then slowly return to where you are. Don’t rush.

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4: Tense And Release.

Carrying worries around all day can cause tenseness in our muscles. Stress can actually cause our bodies to ache. In this exercise, tense all the muscles in your body and then relax them. Focus on one muscle group at a time. For example, your right hand. Take a deep breath and then squeeze those muscles for approximately 5-7 seconds (until you feel warmth). Make the muscle tension deliberate, but still gentle. Also try very hard to only tense the muscle group you’re focusing on — it can be very easy to accidentally spread the tension to another area (for example, your forearm).

5: Laugh.

Laughing is the simplest stress reliever. Laughter actually causes the release of chemicals into the body that reduces tension and pain. If you’re not a fan of just forcing yourself to laugh, call a funny friend or pull up a hilarious video on youtube.

Smile, breathe and go slowly. You’ve got this.

If you struggle with anxiety, find more resources here: