“Calm down.”

calm down

When someone tells me to “calm down,” my response often involves: Defensiveness.  Feeling helpless, sometimes more anxious.  Feeling obligated:  I should be able to calm down.

I have certainly benefited from mindfulness exercises.  Remembering to breathe, especially in tense moments, is crucial.  Being aware and conscious, even in the midst of times when I’m on high alert, helps me a lot.  But calm?  There’s no easy switch to go to that.

From my perspective as someone with sensory processing issues and anxiety, I often interpret “calm down” as meaning that something is wrong with the way I’m reacting.  I have had times when I believed I should be responding differently and stifled my reaction so it was less visible.

I posted an article in my latest Friday link roundup that claims it’s more effective to switch thoughts of “I’m anxious” to “I’m excited” instead of trying to tell oneself to calm down.  It’s easier to stay in an elevated state – from anxiety to excitement – than bring oneself down to calm.  I think this technique might be most effective before public speaking or doing something new.  I have tried it when teaching Nia, and the truth of the matter is that I’m anxious and excited in that situation.  Telling myself “I’m excited” in that context helps me sense more of the joy of what I’m doing, even if it is fairly new and somewhat intimidating.

If I have a startle response in reaction to traffic or someone coming unexpectedly out from behind a corner (or I begin to panic; etc.), I find it more effective to validate my response, e.g.: “I am feeling anxious right now.  My nervous system is responding this way because it’s sensitive,” and list things I see around me to ground myself.  I may not become calm, but I might feel calmer.  Acknowledging and accepting where I’m at – instead of fighting it and trying to change my state of being – does have a soothing effect for me.

What helps you when you feel anxious?  What do you wish others would say to you?


One response to this post.

  1. I agree that hearing “calm down” does very little to achieve that. For me it’s deep breathing and stepping away from the situation.


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