Stressed out, or anxiety high? Feeling overwhelmed? Yelling at yourself to calm the eff down isn’t going to help… Here’s a practical, neuroscience-based, step-by-step exercise to get you calmed down, quick.
This is more than just another pretty relaxation exercise. You’re going to be hacking and reverse-engineering the “alarm system” in your brain and body. If you want to learn more about the underlying brain and nervous-system details, you can check out my more detailed post on “circuit breakers” for anxiety.
Start by hacking your breath.
You’re going to breathe in, in a regular, natural way, to a count of whatever number feels comfortable to you; then, breathe out for one more than that. So, you might breathe in for four, and out for five, or in for eight, and out for nine. (This tells your nervous system that you’re not actually being chased by a tiger.) If you’re able, use your heartbeat or pulse as the “counter.” If you can’t, no problem.
Now, reverse-engineer your smart vagus nerve – which is kind of like the brakeman for the railroad train of your nervous system.
Jaw, tongue, and mouth
Loosen your jaw a little, so there’s some space between your upper and lower teeth. Let the big chewing muscles be relaxed, allowing your jaw to hang a bit. Your lips can stay gently closed, or parted, whatever’s most comfortable.
Allow your tongue to relax, like it’s just kind of laying limp in the bottom “tray” of your mouth.
You have a circular muscle around your mouth that acts a little like a drawstring on a pouch. Let that loosen up.
Shoulders, neck, and throat
Bring your awareness to your shoulders, and see if you can relax them into a lower position, just letting them hang a bit more loosely, a bit farther from your ears.
Your neck will probably loosen as you relax your shoulders; see if you can let your voicebox (Adam’s apple, larynx) lower.
Feel your breath passing easily through your relaxed, more open throat.
Eyes, brows, and forehead
Your eyes also have circular muscles around them; see if you can loosen those muscles a little bit.
Chest and belly
Put one hand on the center of your chest, and your other hand on your lower belly, below your navel. Apply firm, steady pressure through each hand.
For another 30 seconds, breathe gently and a bit more deeply, feeling your chest and belly rise and subside with each breath.