Whether it’s due to the coronavirus pandemic, economic hardships, or racial unrest, many of us are likely feeling especially anxious right now. While it’s normal for current events to be taking a toll on our mental health, the truth is that we can also seize the opportunity to figure out new ways to cope with stress, and learn how to course correct when our minds start to race. Learning personal strategies to cope with anxiety and stress is an essential way to build resilience. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their best tips for invoking calm in stressful moments. Which of these tips will you consider the next time your mind starts to race?

Try “box breathing”

“The way I evoke calm in the moment is through my breath. I do a box breathing technique where you inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four and hold for a count of four. It is incredibly balancing and calming, and really brings me into the present moment. When I find myself getting overwhelmed when my seven-year-old is playing games when it’s time for bed, instead of getting annoyed, I turn it into a mindful game. I remind myself he is simply doing what a seven-year-old boy does. I focus on my breath as a way to stay calm, and celebrate my victory.”

—Lori Milner, author and trainer, Johannesburg, South Africa

Do a five-minute brain dump

“When my mind is racing and I’m feeling stressed, I find that the quickest way to alleviate that stress is to do a brain dump. Take five minutes and simply write out everything that you are thinking about, worried about, or things you have to do. Once you see it on paper, it becomes something tangible that you can prioritize and act on, instead of a jumble of thoughts cluttering up your mind.”

—Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA

Hold your arms above your head

“I was recently diagnosed with anxiety, and I’ve searched for exercises, meditations, and books to put my emotions at ease. The exercise that has worked best for me is to stand tall with my arms down at my side. I breathe in to fill my lungs and gently raise both arms above my head and clasp my hands. I hold for ten counts. Then, while exhaling, I gently lower my arms to my side. I do this at least ten times and I immediately feel the stress leave my chest and heart. When I don’t do this exercise, I notice the difference in my stress levels.”

—Gerry J. Tucker, educator, Austin, Texas

Repeat a calming mantra

“When I feel stress come on, I repeat a mantra that works for me. I tell myself, ‘I am love. I am hope.’ It reminds me I have control over fear and anxiety and my choices reflect this as well.”

—Kristin Meekhof, life coach and author, Birmingham, MI

Create a vision board

“A few weeks into quarantine, I created a vision board with the theme of ‘strength and resilience.’ When a moment of panic hits, I stand in front of it for a few minutes and absorb the beautiful and strong images  — whether it’s a photo of Billie Jean King, Oprah Winfrey, or a school principal determined to help kids out of poverty. Looking at the board gives me a sense of what I need in the moment to reset — whether that’s calling a friend, getting some exercise, or going back to work.”

—Dena Lefkowitz, Esq., PCC, lawyer coach, Media, PA

Listen to an unfamiliar song

“Having lived with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] for about 60 years, I’ve had to come up with ways to soothe a racing mind. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve found one or two things that work. The best way is to play some music you don’t normally listen to, but want to get to know, like jazz, for instance. If you’re not one to listen to jazz, listen to it when your mind is racing and try to listen closely. Try to immerse yourself in the music. Identify the instruments or the voices if any. Make it a point to learn the melody. Hum a few bars afterward.”

—Mark John Clifford, retired investment banker, Fresno, CA

Consider “mindful counting”

“I’ve found that a simple and effective mindful exercise to use when you are stressed or your mind is racing is mindful counting. For example, try focusing on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Being totally present and mindful is a great way to beat stress.”

—Barry Gottlieb, author, speaker, success mentor and advisor, West Palm Beach, FL

Tap into a happy memory

“When my mind starts to race, I find that tapping into old memories, either by looking through old photo albums or re-reading past birthday cards, has been a great way to revisit happy times and to reminisce about the joyful occasions. Sometimes a glimpse into the past can help us remember how far we’ve come, not just how much further we have to go.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France 

Look ahead of the current moment

“To stop my head from spinning when I am experiencing a stressful moment, I look with optimism to what’s ahead — beyond my present moment of worry. When I feel my thoughts start to spiral, I stop what I am doing and look at the horizon of future possibilities. I remind myself that after this moment passes, I will look back and laugh about it. This reminder gives me strength, helps me to regain focus, and gives me hope for the future.”

—Francesco Onorato, business development, Phoenix, AZ

Do you have a go-to tip that helps you stay calm when you’re feeling stressed? Share it with us in the comments. 

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.