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Picture this: you’ve just arrived at your first social event since being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. You’re nervous, so you head to the bar for your favorite cocktail, but you remember that you’ve already reached your carb limit for the day and it would be better to stick with water. It feels so unfair. Your frustration starts to snowball and pretty soon, you’re shaking and don’t know how to calm down.
In the world of psychology, this is called a micro-trauma, a subtle form of trauma that happens over time rather than all at once. “When you have diabetes, micro-traumas can be anything that is related to managing diabetes that prevents or interrupts what you’re doing in that moment,” explains Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDCES, a diabetes-focused psychotherapist.
Micro-traumas don’t just happen in social situations. An unusually high blood sugar reading, a well-meaning family member telling you what not to eat, or a stern doctor using words like “good blood sugar” or “bad blood sugar” are all forms of micro-traumas.
Ongoing support, whether it’s a Facebook group, in-person support group, a therapist who is educated about this issue, or a clinical health coach, is the most important thing you can do to alleviate the ongoing stress diabetes can cause, according to Connie Morris, LCSW, LISW, a therapist based in Kentucky who lives with type 2 diabetes.
But sometimes you just need to calm down fast. We’ve put together seven unexpected science-backed tips for how to calm down in those situations when emotions are high and patience is low. These tips will help you get to a cooler place where you can evaluate your situation and make more sound decisions.
1. Turn yourself upside-down.
Believe it or not, any upside-down movement can help you re-center, refocus, and relax.
In yoga, going upside down is called an inversion. These inverted poses “encourage venous blood flow from the legs and pelvis back to the heart and then pumped through the lungs where it becomes freshly oxygenated,” according to a study published in the International Journal of Yoga.
Going upside down literally reenergizes your organs with fresh blood and can figuratively change your perspective on what’s causing you distress. In general, yoga counteracts the fight-or-flight response we find ourselves in when we’re upset by restoring balance between body and mind.
“Try lying on the floor with your legs up-the-wall, draping your body over a sturdy piece of furniture such as an ottoman, or reaching down for your toes,” recommends Dr. Juliet M. Ross, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with a particular focus on the impact of chronic illness and disabilities. “Just a moment or two of gentle inversion can improve mood, focus, and outlook.”
2. Try alternate nostril breathing.
Practiced by yogis for thousands of years, alternate nostril breathing is a form of breathwork under the umbrella of “pranayama,” a Sanskrit word that roughly translates to “extension of vital energy.”
When we’re upset, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and our breathing becomes shallow, irregular, and difficult. Research shows that alternate nostril breathing can slow our breathing and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that works to relax the body.
Alternate nostril breathing is as simple as it sounds. “Practice inhaling through your left nostril while gently holding the right side closed,” recommends Dr. Christine Sparacino, PsyD, PLLC, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in treating mood issues, health problems, and diabetes. Then, do the same thing on the other side. For a deep dive into all things breathing, Dr. Sparacino recommends the book Breath by James Nestor.
3. Connect with the ground.
Taking your shoes off and bringing your body in contact with the Earth can improve your mood and help you relax, according to a research study published in Psychological Reports.
This practice is called grounding or Earthing. If you’ve ever sighed with relief aftering stepping onto a beach and feeling the sand between your toes, it might be obvious that connecting bare feet with the ground just feels good. Research backs it up. Making direct physical contact with electrons on the Earth’s surface can improve heart rate variability which translates into relaxation.
4. Do an easy chore.
When you get heated and need to calm down fast, try distracting yourself by doing an easy chore.
Distraction gets a bad rap. It’s often confused with avoidance. But research shows that distraction can enhance positive emotions and facilitate problem-solving. Basically, distraction gives you a temporary rest from the problem at hand, so you can later refocus and solve it with fresh eyes.
Distraction is particularly helpful when your blood sugar goes high. “When you’re in that stressful moment, don’t try to figure out why your blood sugar is the way it is. Address the situation, wait til your blood sugar goes back to normal, and then think it through,” explains LeBow. “When blood sugar goes high, there’s a lack of oxygen and an excessive amount of glucose reaching your mind, which prevent the synapses from firing properly, so emotions take over.”
While your emotions and blood sugar are running high, LeBow suggests that you “stop what you’re doing and pick an activity that is simple to do. Do the dishes. Shred papers. Do things that don’t take a lot of mental activity.”
5. Pet your dog or cat.
One surefire way to calm down fast is to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase the feel-good hormone, oxytocin. Spending quality time with your dog or cat can do just that. Not only can cuddling your pet help you calm down, it can improve your immune system response, cardiovascular health, and pain management. “Give your pet some love and see if your feelings change,” recommends Dr. Sparacino.
The special relationship between humans and animals goes back more than12,000 years (archaeologists discovered a human skeleton holding a puppy in northern Israel dating from that time). Animals have been used by humans for therapeutic purposes ever since.
6. Give yourself a pep talk.
In the heat of the moment, self-talk can turn really negative really fast. Pausing what you’re doing and giving yourself a quick pep talk can do the trick when you’re not sure how to calm down.
Self-talk is the constant internal dialogue that runs through your mind. It’s based on both conscious and unconscious beliefs and biases you hold about yourself. “Negative internal dialogue eats away at a person,” explains LeBow. “One negative event can wipe out 10 positive events that have occurred. It’s the way we’re built, but awareness of it is very helpful.”
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection consequentially influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress.”
Basically, speaking to yourself in the second person instead of the first person (“You’re doing great” instead of “I’m doing great”) can help you create some distance between yourself and any limiting beliefs you may have and take a fresh perspective on your situation.
“Remind yourself that your feelings are temporary and that they will change,” recommends Dr. Sparacino. “Our emotions are like clouds moving through the sky. It can be helpful to reassure ourselves that how we feel will pass.”
7. Drink a glass of plain water.
Water has a soothing and calming effect and plays a crucial role in many processes in our body.
When we’re dehydrated, the body is stressed which in turn causes stress hormones to be released. If you’re stressed out for other reasons, being dehydrated only compounds it and the body is flooded with hormones like cortisol. But the good news is that drinking plain water has been shown to decrease the risk of depression and anxiety and bring the body back into homoeostasis.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.