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How to Calm Down When Life Is Out Of Control

A woman stands alone on a field of ice and snow, in front of an open grey sky.

Self-Regulation is something that I didn’t know I needed to learn until I was already losing it during stressful situations. Having kids with trauma and special needs is no joke, but neither is a pandemic, so I still lean on these strategies OFTEN.

This will not be me whispering “Self-care…” disingenuously in your ear as you struggle to cope with the basics. I know that there is no struggle like the struggle with no escape. “Taking a break” (i.e. going somewhere to recharge) isn’t always an option, especially not in the moment, so these are things you can do wherever you may be.

 

 

I have learned so much about small ways to cope that I decided to divide this into two parts. This is going to be a higher functioning guide for coping with life stressors, and the second part takes it all the way back to staying alive.

Important to note, I have spent waaay too much of my adult life housebound and flat broke, so you can do all of these with basically zero resources.

 

Change the Air

 

A lot of self-regulation is about bringing your mind back into your body and the present. I was watching an episode of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show and she also recommends this strategy if you are feeling overwhelmed. Basically, change your physical environment to change your emotional environment.

This can be anything that is soothing and brings you some amount of pleasure.

My favourites:

  • Open a window or 12 – If the season allows, get some fresh air flowing through your home
  • Light candles

 

No joke, Bath & Bodyworks has gotten me through some tough times. Evenings where I didn’t know if I could do another day, but I also couldn’t spend money having fun, were spent sniffing $3 soap and $11 three-wick candles. Everybody needs soap, just buy the soap when candles are on sale.

Candles change the mood in your home, and bonus(!) I think they actually burn up dirty smells, because leftover food odours never stick around after candles, so that’s basically the same as cleaning.

Essential Oils in a diffuser are another go-to for me. Whether you believe in their healing properties or not, I get a weird thrill from pretending to be a crunchy Mama once in a while. My absolute favourite is the Liquid Sunshine “cheerful diffusing blend” from Saje, mixed with a few drops of any eucalyptus. That blend really does brighten my mood, and I find the mist soothing.

 

 

No money? No oils? No candles? No WINDOWS?? Weird, but no problem.

Get a small stick from outside, light it for a few seconds, blow it out and then let the little bit of smoke waft around. It is not enough smoke to set off a detector. I usually do this over the stove and then place it on the back under the vent. (So it is quite safe – basically like lighting a candle and blowing it out, but a different smell.)

I have all of the other things, and I still prefer this method once in a while. Maybe it’s campfire memories? I have no idea, but a little bit of wood smoke is a powerful mind gatherer and food-smell cover…er. (For obvious reasons, if your kids are little maniacs and enjoy making poor choices, don’t do this when they’re watching.)

Personally I haven’t ever used incense, room sprays, or air fresheners, but those would also work. A wax warmer is another option, but it’s not the immediate snap-out-of-it effect that these other methods are.

 

 

Flames in the car or at the office clearly won’t work, but the concept does! Open a window if you can, carry an essential oil roller ball, have a body mist or even a scented hand sanitizer at the ready. 

 

Dropping In

 

 

I love the name for this particular mindfulness exercise. This is incredibly simple. When your thoughts are scattered or racing, when you feel overwhelmed, or you’re about to lose your cool, “drop in” to the present moment.

Take a deep breath. Focus in on anything your body can feel or is touching. How does your chair feel beneath you? Can you feel the wind on your skin? Your clothes? I find the easiest sensations to focus on are what your feet and hands feel. If you’re moving around, try to focus on taking each step with intention and pay attention to how your foot lands and rolls from heel to toe.

 

Keep breathing. Change your focus to all the sounds around you. Can you hear traffic? Birds? The refrigerator? See how many sounds you can pick up. This part is actually really amazing, the longer you listen the more you will start to hear. No wonder you’re overwhelmed! Your body is filtering out a whole boatload of chaos before you even realize it.

Set your sights on the world around you. You can look around and notice the vibrant colours everywhere, try to spot one colour in as many places as possible, or pick an object to focus on and send your breath towards it.

 

 

Take some more deep breaths and concentrate on smell. If you have a beverage nearby, take a taste.

That’s it! This is a nice time to take a moment and think of something that you are grateful for, or remember an affirmation or scripture.

This not only WORKS like a charm. It works like a charm on the kiddos too. Sometimes if I’m sensing that we’re about to lose it in kid-town, I’ll give out a quick task “Hey, how many yellow things can you see?” Creativity is your friend, because there’s about a million ways you can turn this into bite sized pieces.

 

 

If you don’t have what it takes either time wise or in mental fortitude to go through this whole exercise, I recommend:

 

Washing your hands

 

 

No, this has nothing to do with the ‘Rona. Use a soap you enjoy the smell of, lather up, and take in the whole experience very deliberately. Not only does it have all the elements listed above (feel, smell, sound, sight) but you can also give yourself some nice deep pressure sensory input as you wash. You have time to wash your hands!!

 

Music

 

 

Music is so powerful! I think everybody understands that, but don’t underestimate or forget the power it can have on your outlook and mood. This one is not just for you, it will help the mood of everyone around you (including your little crazies, if you have those!)

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have thought I didn’t have time or was too disorganized or pessimistic to simply turn on a playlist. Sound ridiculous? Congrats! You are higher functioning than I!

Have a playlist lined up that you enjoy so that its an easy click on in the morning. Please try this. Its actually ridiculous how much better our school mornings go with music.

I really enjoy carolinejoyrector on Spotify for really great relaxed and upbeat playlists. She typically uses a mix of new and old, and the “feel good fall” ones are my personal favourite.

Another suggestion that may seem odd is playlists from Love Island. I noticed while watching too much reality TV that they have a really good mix of slower moody songs and dancey pop songs. Of course someone else has already taken these musings to Spotify, so a search of Love Island will bring up many options. My personal favourite so far is “Sounds of Love Island.” Be aware that some of these songs may have swears, so take a peek for “E” tags. On the playlist I linked I think there are only two on the whole thing.

Of course you could use your own but I get tired of my own picks quickly, so I prefer to listen to other people’s choices as background music and save mine for exercising or going for walks.

Are you feeling calmer already? Try some of these the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or scatterbrained! For anxiety, depression, and other basic calming and coping tips, visit this post: Coping for Adults.