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7 instant ways to find calm when you're feeling overwhelmed

Mindfulness experts share their tips for instant ways to feel centered if you're overwhelmed or anxious.
If you're battling troubling thoughts, try one of these easy mindfulness methods.
If you're battling troubling thoughts, try one of these easy mindfulness methods.Katty Huertas / TODAY / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Feeling overwhelmed or anxious? You’ve come to the right place.

Whether it’s a culmination of all the stress of 2020, or just one thing that’s causing you to feel tense, there are quick things you can do to feel better.

Eve Lewis Prieto, director of meditation at Headspace, explained to TMRW that when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we are usually so caught up in our own thoughts that we’re unaware of what’s happening around us, how we’re behaving or how our body is feeling.

“In these moments, it can be hard to slow down our thoughts as more and more anxious thoughts come in,” she said. That’s why it’s important to take a moment for yourself to get re-centered and more relaxed.

Below, find seven tips recommended by mindfulness experts to help you feel calm instantly.

1. Do a body scan.

Image: Woman meditating at home
Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down to do a relaxing and restorative body scan.Jamie Grill / Getty Images

One of Prieto’s go-to exercises for restoring some inner peace is what she calls the body scan. “Start by sitting comfortably in a chair or lying down — I prefer to lie down and close my eyes,” she said. “Take a couple of big deep breaths focusing on the lungs filling with air and the body softening as you exhale. Feel the weight of your body pressing down in the seat or the surface and pay attention to the different points of contact. Place your attention at the top of your head and very slowly scan down through each part of your body at an even pace.”

As you’re doing this, notice how your body feels. “Don’t worry if your mind wanders, just gently let the thought go and return to your body scan until you have reached your toes,” she said. Repeat this process a couple of times to help you relax your muscles and redirect your focus away from the thoughts that are causing you to feel anxious.

2. Take a walk.

Image: Spain, Barcelona, jogging woman with headphones at harbour
Walking will help you feel better as well as being out in nature.Westend61 / Getty Images

Bestselling wellness author Sarah Wilson, whose new book, “This One Wild and Precious Life” is coming out Dec. 29, said that walking in nature can have major benefits to your physical and mental state. “Twenty minutes of moderate walking, preferably in green spaces, has been shown to have massive effects on our cortisol and dopamine,” Wilson said.

Walking really slowly can help with the meditative qualities of the walk. Inhale with one foot moving forward, then exhale while stepping with the other foot. Another thing you can do, she suggested, is imagine drawing fresh energy up from the earth on your inhale and pushing the stale, toxic energy back down with your exhale.

3. Rest.

Image: African American woman sleeping in bed
Napping can be a form of rest, but there are other ways to rest your body and mind besides sleeping. Andresr / Getty Images

Racial justice educator and spiritual activist Rachel Ricketts says that when she feels overwhelmed, she looks to emotional, mental, spiritual and physical rest for reclaiming inner peace. “This is one of the areas I am personally working on the most because it is really hard to overcome social programming to constantly do instead of be, especially as a Black woman,” she said.

The author of the book "Do Better," which will be released Feb. 2, 2021, added that she cannot show up for herself if she hasn't given herself sufficient time to rest. “I like to take a moment to ask myself, ‘How does my heart feel?’ so I can catch when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious, and then if and when I am, I do my best to find a way to introduce more rest into my life.”

She said that rest is about much more than sleep. “Sometimes rest looks like taking a nap, but it can also look like sitting in silence, connecting with my breath, turning off my phone or phone notifications, declining the temptation to help others before myself or saying ‘no’ without explanation,” she said. “When we do not allow ourselves the time and space to be with the full breadth of our feelings, we cannot understand why they are there and allow them to be revealed so they can ultimately be healed.”

4. Soften your body.

Image: Relaxed young woman lying on couch
Softening your body is a quick way to relieve tension.Westend61 / Getty Images

Tara Stiles, owner of Strala Yoga and author of the upcoming wellness book “Clean Mind, Clean Body,” which will be released Dec. 29, said that her go-to stress reliever is a move she nicknamed the “wiggle test.”

“Often when we’re stressed everything just clenches in and we’re immovable,” she said. “It can move us so we eventually break or we feel stressed.” Loosening up can help ease that tension. Stiles suggests either sitting or standing and bending your knees a little while softening your elbows or shoulders. This process will help you feel more relaxed and ease the anxiety you’re experiencing.

5. Meditate.

Image: Meditation is how I stay focused in life
Meditating for even just a few minutes can bring calmness and inner peace to your body and mind.PeopleImages / Getty Images

Anita Moorjani, international speaker and bestselling author whose new inspirational book “Sensitive is the New Strong” is coming out March 16, 2021, suggests taking a moment to meditate and breathe when you’re feeling overwhelmed. “Your mind will be calm in minutes,” she said.

To start, sit quietly and focus on your breath. “Don't even think about having to clear your mind,” she said, adding that a lot of people are intimidated by meditation because they are unable to clear their thoughts. “Every time your mind wanders, just gently shift your focus back to your breath.”

If you’re not sure exactly what to do or want some guidance, you can find a guided meditation on @TMRWxTODAY's IGTV.

6. Grab a cup of tea.

Image: Unwinding the way she knows best
You could also try this with your morning cup of coffee, but Arnett said a non-caffeinated beverage will work best if you're feeling particularly stressed. PeopleImages / Getty Images

There’s a version of meditation that you can do with just a cup of chamomile tea. Yoga instructor and host of The Mindful Minute podcast, Meryl Arnett, says this practice can help bring you back into the present moment if you’re lost in stressful thoughts.

“Take a comfortable seat and hold your mug of tea in both hands,” she said. “Breathe in deeply through the nose and then release the breath with a sigh out of the mouth.” As you’re breathing, gaze at the mug in your hands. Notice the color and shape of the mug and the liquid inside. Feel the texture of the mug with your fingers and notice the warmth. “See if you can follow the warmth of the liquid through your palms and up your forearms,” she said.

The idea of this practice is to get your senses working again, since they typically shut off in stressful moments.

7. Wiggle your toes.

Arnett said this may sound silly, but as a mom of two little kids it’s the first thing she does when she feels her patience tested and anxiety rising. “Notice that although our minds can go back into the past and project forward into the future, our feet are always right here in the present moment,” she said.

“Taking just seconds to fully feel and be aware of your feet brings you back into the present moment and provides a momentary pause from the torrent of thoughts. Often, this alone is enough to interrupt that worry response and give you enough space to make wise choices.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing shoes, socks or are barefoot, take a moment to notice what your toes are touching (socks, carpet, hardwood, etc.) and notice how they feel (are they warm or cold?). “Now, scrunch your toes up like you are making a fist with your foot, and then relax your toes spreading them as far apart as possible,” Arnett said, adding that you should do this two or three times to get the full effect.