How to be a calmer person
Ever get days where you feel grumpy – or others drive you to despair? Fear not, we have eight ideas to keep things calm.
We can’t be calm and in control all the time, can we? Julian Hall, founder of Calm People (www.calmpeople.co.uk), an organisation that helps individuals with anger management and emotional resilience, would disagree.
“That grumpiness comes from not feeling emotionally strong,” he says. “We have a tendency to bottle up our feelings in this country or, to put it another way, not to process them. If we build up our emotional resilience, we find it much easier to cope with whatever life throws at us.”
To build emotional strength he says there are three core areas that need to be addressed – “dealing with stress, processing feelings and building up self-esteem”.
Here are eight ways to address these factors and become calmer and more emotionally resilient. As a Benenden Health member, if you’re distressed and need help urgently, you can access the 24/7 psychological wellbeing helpline on 0800 414 8247 (select option 2).
Keep calm and carry on
Keep a journal
Writing about feelings can help us process them. A University of California study found activity in the amygdala (the part of the brain which controls the intensity of emotions) was reduced by regular writing – especially if done by hand. The study found that keeping a journal was more effective for male participants.
“We often have events that continually play in our minds,” says Julian. “Writing them down is a way of emptying the head.”
Whether it’s making pottery or joining a drama group, there is a wealth of evidence that creative activity is good for you. Last year the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing produced a report on creative health, which found that 82% of people who joined a participatory arts programme enjoyed greater wellbeing as a result. Creative activities encourage a sense of purpose, which helps build self-esteem.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of your thoughts and emotions as they happen, so you recognise them and accept them rather than trying to control or suppress them.
“Raising awareness of how you’re feeling, and having absolute honesty about those feelings, is an important step,” says Julian. “But mindful meditation is called a practice for a reason: you have to practise every day without expectation. Changes don’t happen overnight.”
A bad night’s sleep can leave you exhausted – which often leads to snappiness and feeling less able to cope with stress. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered that it all goes back to the amygdala – the part of the brain that deals in heightened emotion. If the brain isn’t well rested it loses control of the amygdala, which makes you more emotional.
Study leader Professor Talma Hendler said: “We lose our neutrality. It’s as if suddenly everything is important.”
Learn how to breathe
Taking a deep breath is an age-old technique to induce calm. Researchers at Stanford University found that our brains contain what they have termed a “pacemaker for breathing”. This links respiratory neurons with those that control emotions – slower breathing is linked to feelings of calm, while faster breathing induces feelings of tension.
Get into nature
In 1982, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrinyoku’ (forest bathing) to improve health and wellbeing. Shinrinyoku is about the pleasure of being among trees. Studies by Chiba University reported that 30 minutes in a forest environment can lower blood pressure, the pulse rate, and concentrations of cortisol, and enhance parasympathetic nerve activity.
It can be easy to overlook how important exercise is to mental health. Exercise doesn’t just produce dopamine – the “happy chemical” – but, scientists at Princeton University have found, it also boosts the brain’s ability to cope with stress by creating new neurons in the ventral region of the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked to the regulation of anxiety.
“[We developed with] two modes of being – ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and ‘rest and digest’,” says Julian. “The first releases adrenaline and cortisol into the blood but you need to get rid of these, or they lead to ongoing feelings of anxiety. Deep relaxation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which cleanses the body of excess adrenaline and cortisol.”