In a year that started off with major stress thanks to destructive bushfires, only to pile on more anxiety with a god damn global pandemic with no known vaccine (yet), and then just sprinkles of more blood-pumping nerves with a crucial US election today, it’s a pretty sure thing that our collective nerves are shot to shit right about now. My poor brain, she’s not calm at all.

Not to mention all the other things about this year that have reduced many of us into bubbling pools of anxiety – losing jobs, remotely studying, major exams, general existentialism, the whole gauntlet of 2020.

But when our brains are racing at a hundred clicks a minute and it feels like everything is incredibly overwhelming, how can we calm our anxious minds?

Trying to find something to help us self-soothe and ground ourselves in the height of a freak out sometimes feels like an entirely fruitless effort – with minds going blank and an inability to pinpoint what exactly is going wrong – so we thought we’d do the hard part, and all you have to do is take a step back and see what works for you. We’re not doctors or psychs or have any kind of real degree on mental health, but we’re all living this year with you all and wanted to share what helps us calm us down and get our brains back into focus again.

how to calm stress

Kids Helpline posted a really great resource this week about what to do when feeling the stress, which includes things like exercise to calm down our ‘fight or flight’ response, getting more sleep (yep, take a nap), snacking, daydreaming, and focusing in on different senses.

All of these little tricks help to distract our pesky brains from panicking, which is what I feel like my brain has been wired to for 99% of this year.

And yep, exercise does help clear your head from stress times – as much as I hate to admit it. It works. Even just getting myself up and moving before or after a long day helps. Goddammit.

Taking 10 mins away from my laptop, or my phone, or whatever I’m feeling stressed out by has really helped me this year, and using that time to take some deep breaths, refocus, calm my brain, and come back to everything with fresh eyes is a trick I use often.

Breathing patterns get shared around all the time and sometimes they do seem a bit daggy (like something your hippy aunt might suggest) but this one, in particular, has been a godsend lately.

calm your brain from stress breathing

Meditating might feel like another weird eccentric aunt vibe, but I won’t lie to you – I actually feel noticeably better after doing it. Carving out a 15 minute part of my day that is just for me – and not doomscrolling on Twitter or Insta – has helped me to chill out.

I tend to sit for a quiet moment in the mornings before really starting my day, and go through a session with 1 Giant Mind, a meditation app that gets you focusing on a mantra, helping to calm your frazzled brain, and is never critical of how your meditation sessions go – it’s all about the importance of showing up to do it.

calm brain from stress tips

Headspace also recommends having a little gratitude journal, taking time to note down things that you’re thankful for over each day, week, month, whatever. That helps you focus in on little triumphs or good things that happen in your day to day life.

As someone who’s bloody heinous at keeping any kind of journal or diary, I love to have daily or weekly Peaks & Pits chat with my friends. After we’ve all settled for the day, we go around the group chat and list one shitty thing that happened, and one nice thing that happened to us. It helps to put everything into perspective, check out of any stress or neg vibes, and have a little cheers to things we accomplished in our day.

calm brain stress overwhelmed peaks pits

And look, if after all that you still feeling a bit cooked, just cook some food (or order something in) crawl under a heavy blanket, get soft and small and comfy, and try again tomorrow. This feeling will pass.

Help is available. 

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you are in distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online

Have something on your mind? You can reach out to BeyondBlue at 1300 22 4636 or  chat online.

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

Image: Netflix / Schitt's Creek