33 Ways To Stay Calm – Even In The Most Anger-Inducing Situations
Illustration by Mr Harry Haysom
There’s little doubt that we’re living through an age of rage, in which populists whip up anger on social media and one in five of us admits to feeling angrier these days. Stress, the pandemic, global uncertainty, economic upheaval and the emotional cost of everyday living are taking their toll on our mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Knowing how to dial down the anger, disarm stress and remain calm in the tensest of situations is achievable. Through a combination of dietary changes, greyhound walking and hardcore punk rock, you can find your inner chill and check your anger before it hits boiling point.
Cancel wake-up calls
“One of the reasons we feel so anxious is that we tend to live in a way that’s very reactionary,” says Mr Jay Shetty, author of Think Like A Monk. “We wake up and right away we check our phones, looking at social media, the news or email, and that sets our thoughts and our minds spinning. If we want a more positive, calm or focused attitude, we have to choose that mindset for ourselves each day. Just like we have a routine for putting on our clothes, we can have a routine for putting on our mindset.”
Stimulate your vagus nerve
“Take five slow deep belly breaths in through the nose and out through the nose, allow the belly to swell on the inhale,” says voice coach Ms Anouska Taylor. “This stimulates your vagus nerve, also known as the anti-anxiety nerve, and so will help to reduce anxiety and stress in the voice. Conscious breathing can improve the connection between our brain and voice as well as helping us to feel calmer, as it has a central role in our body’s parasympathetic nervous system.”
Accept life can be tough
“These are insane, busy times,” says Mr Ryan Holiday, author of Lives Of The Stoics. “But we have to focus on what we control. In reality, some negative visualisation – thinking the unthinkable – would have helped us respond better not only medically to the pandemic, but it would have helped us as individuals be a bit more resilient.”
Ask for clarification
Much of the conflict that brews on social media or in email conversations stems from simple misunderstandings. It can be difficult to get your intonation across in a short tweet or post. Arguments start because people don’t reread and edit what they’ve written. “Commit to clarifying what each person means when you feel yourself making assumptions,” says Ms Emma Gannon, author of (Dis) Connected: How To Stay Human In An Online World. “Ask someone to clarify their post, statement or reply and to get specific. Often that author will rethink, or rewrite, or, upon reflection, even change their view.”
Rap away your road rage
Whether it’s being stuck in traffic or at the sharp end of a fellow road user’s bad behaviour, we all understand the frustrations of road rage. How to combat it? Ogmios, ASMR star and creator of the soothing School Of Zen Motoring, suggests rapping. He insists creativity from breaking out the beats can be a force for calm. “Battle rap is a good training in how to maintain composure in the face of hostility,” he says.
Cut the coffee…
The battle-rapper also insists on a lemon and ginger pick-me-up. “Coffee is too stimulating for me,” says Ogmios. “It has me bouncing off the walls. I only have one in an emergency. I stick to herbal teas and houmous sandwiches – ultimate calming combo.” Research published in Nutrition & Food Science confirms that one to three cups of herbal infusions a day benefit sleep quality (chamomile), hormone control (spearmint) and stress (lemon balm).
Or just drink it in company
Researchers from the University of Bristol discovered that when stressed-out men drank caffeine alone, they remained in a state of anxiety. But when they consumed it in the company of colleagues, social groups or the cast of Friends, the stress subsided.
Be an e-asy rider
If you cycle, a motorised boost on a busy commute or on a tough hill climb can give you a mental boost, too. “The benefits of using an e-bike may even outweigh those gained when riding a standard bike,” says Mr James Metcalfe of Volt Bikes. “Emerging research conducted by Oxford Brookes University and Reading University found that older electric bike riders had better brain function and mental health than those riding a regular bicycle.”
Get a relaxed look
“A sharp suit and polished shoes will act like a protective layer of armour and give an air of authority in the boardroom, but it pays to employ a few nerve-calming nuances,” says Mr Olie Arnold, Style Director for MR PORTER. “Swap a potentially restrictive shirt and tie for a more tactile cashmere crew neck and wear a scent that evokes happy memories of loved ones, as if they were there with you.”
Count your blessings
For a piece of inner calm, try a gratitude-boosting meditation technique from the Buddhist naikan practice in which you ask yourself three reflecting questions: what have I received from X, what have I given to Y and what troubles and difficulty have I caused? Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23 per cent, University of California researchers found.
Drink more fruit juice
Hearty, regular doses of vitamin C act as a pacifier to the body’s fight-or-flight hormone-secreting response, researchers at the University of Alabama discovered. In trials on rats, who have a similar bio make-up to humans, they found that about 200mg vitamin C twice a day stopped them going into stress mode.
Count your breaths
“A few minutes of mindfulness meditation can make a huge difference when you’re struggling to fall asleep,” says Dr Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer at Healthy Minds Innovations. “Instead of ruminating about your day or stressing out about some future situation, simply pay attention to your breath. This can help you break the cycle of negativity with appreciation and help you stay calm so that you can ease into sleep.”
Set your screen to serene
Select a screen image for your smartphone that acts as an instant reminder for you to take one deep breath before you answer any call. According to research from the University of Northern Colorado, this tactic will help feel better and you’ll sound calm and more confident on your call.
Deploy the three Ms
“To immediately de-stress, move – go for a quick walk or do a few push-ups,” says clinical psychologist Mr Nick Wignall. “Make – do something creative or generative from going outside and taking five interesting photos to replacing that dud lightbulb. And meet – have a meaningful interaction with another person.” Just maybe not the person who’s stressing you.
Adopt a greyhound
For a breed renowned for racing, greyhounds are generally mild-natured canines that are especially sensitive to their owners’ emotional state. They’ll pick up on your angst and will nuzzle in for a cuddle. Take them up on the offer. Studies published in Frontiers Of Psychology confirm how human-animal interactions quickly activate the body’s self-therapeutic oxytocin hormone release.
Show some appreciation
Tension in relationships often triggers negative thoughts and emotions. “One way to break the cycle is to practise appreciation,” says Dahl. “Treat appreciation like a skill and work on it. Try to notice one positive thing, even something small, about each person you interact with and every situation you find yourself in. Over time, this simple skill rewires the brain to be less focused on the negative and creates a sense of centredness and calm.”
Feed your brain better
“Information is to the mind what food is to the body,” says Dahl. “Unfortunately, much of the information we consume is junk or even worse, which triggers anxiety, distraction and feelings of social division. Be discerning about what you watch, read and talk about. Focus on things that bring out the best in yourself and the best in others.”
Wear a smartwatch
Select a smartwatch that measures your breathing rate, one of the best ways to monitor and respond to cardiovascular issues triggered by tension. “Breathing rate as a measure is extremely useful,” says Professor Allan Lawrie, who specialises in translational cardiopulmonary science at University of Sheffield. “Until now, we haven’t been able to measure it in a home environment.”
Nap through it
“Napping will help you calm down by providing your brain with a reset,” says Ms Frederique Murphy, founder of Mountain Moving Mindset. “Ideally, nap between 1.00pm and 4.00pm and time it to ensure sleep phases are respected. Fifteen minutes will increase your energy, alertness, motor skills and cognitive performance, while 90-minute naps will leave you feeling refreshed and boost memory and creativity.”
Smile away your angst
Freaking out about a work presentation, best man’s speech or public announcement? “Smile, look at the audience and keep quiet for two seconds,” says Media Training Worldwide expert Mr TJ Taylor. “A smile will slow you down and emit the sense that you’re relaxed and in control to your audience.”
Head for the hills
US research shows that rock climbers and hikers have lower stress levels than their less rugged peers, quite possibly because high-altitude air is charged with negative ions, which trigger relaxing and rejuvenating emotion when inhaled.
Talk in traffic
“According to a recent study, 84 per cent of drivers admitted to feeling stressed or angry occasionally while driving,” says Ms Stephanie Taylor of StressNoMore. “Time pressures put upon us by others or ourselves fuel this anger. Pull over, phone ahead and make those waiting for you aware of the situation. This way, you immediately re-take control as quickly as possible to help alleviate the stress.”
Add trees to your commute
Even if it takes you out of your way, adding greenery to an everyday journey can make your ride, drive or cycle to and from work less stressful, according to studies by the University of Colorado and the University of Essex.
“If you have a potentially stressful situation coming up, such as flying, it always best to choose fabrics that can work with your body,” says Arnold. “Natural fibres, such as cotton and wool, are breathable, so can help regulate your body temperature. Pieces that have less detailing and a looser construction will mean there is less fabric in contact with your body, which will be less irritable.”
Intimate contact lowers blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study revealed. Research subjects who experienced contact were nearly twice as relaxed as the unloved, untouched group.
Call anger out
“Rather than lashing out, take a step back and name what it is you’re feeling,” says Mr Nic Marks, creator of the Happy Planet Index. “If you’re angry, say out loud, ‘That makes me feel angry.’ Calmly expressing your emotion, even if it’s to yourself, shows emotional intelligence and cultivates your control. It shows that you can access your emotions, but are not controlled by them. It will also help others really hear what you’re saying as it won’t trigger a fight or flight response in them.”
Or write it down
“When you verbalise your feelings by writing down your thoughts, putting these into words, according to scientists there is a decreased response in the amygdalae [the parts of the brain that process emotions],” says Murphy. “Functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that the amygdalae of test subjects were less active. This means that you are less prone to triggering the threat response – and it occurs simply by making the time to write it all down – which helps your brain calm down.”
Cook a bowl of spaghetti
A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research shows that eating complex carbohydrates, such as wholewheat pasta, can boost the brain’s levels of the hormone serotonin. When serotonin levels are low, it can lead to anxiety – and aggression.
Tune in to punk
Classical music and whale song may be said to have a calming effect, but if it’s not your bag it can be as annoying as a car alarm at 3.00am. “Extreme” music, from punk and grime to thrash metal and grunge, can positively influence the listener, inspiring calmness rather than anger, University of Queensland studies found. “Music that we’re closely in tune with will help regulate sadness and enhance positive emotions,” says Dr Joan van den Brink, executive coach and author of The Three Companions: Courage, Compassion And Wisdom.
Learn Jacobson’s technique
Progressive muscle relaxation, knows as Jacobson’s technique, demands that you tense and slowly relax various muscle groups in your body, one at a time, from your feet up to your frown. As you tense and release, take slow, deliberate breaths.
Take up drumming
A study in Advances In Mind-Body Medicine showed that group drumming alleviated stress. “Group drumming may reduce anxiety and blood pressure, it may work as pain relief and boost positive emotions and may even lead to improved executive function,’’ according to drum therapy advocates.
Take up humming
“Humming encourages us to slow down the exhalation, as we voice on the exhale, which is calming for our nervous system,” says Taylor. “It also encourages a more resonant voice, as it helps to bring the sound forward, away from the throat. This will help to reduce any constriction or tension in the back of the throat. Try humming your favourite song as you read this and feel the vibration as forward as possible around the mouth and nose.”
Hiit the gym
Three sessions of 30-minute-plus high-intensity interval training will lower stress levels more than any workout done at a moderate pace University of Missouri at Columbia research confirms. The fight or flight response, which floods the body with adrenaline and cortisol, needs an outlet. Smashing your PB on the treadmill could be just that. A post-workout sauna will provide additional stress relief.