The big list of calm

Feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed? This blog post outlines a range of different ways to calm and refocus.  Most are easy to do, others might take practice. As with anything the more you practice the better you’ll be. Notice if these exercises are calming you, and stop them if they are making you feel more anxious or otherwise uncomfortable.

Make a Calm Down Jar

This can be calming to make and once you’ve created it you can use for distraction, grounding, or to enhance meditation. It might be something you create for yourself or as a gift for others or can be used as a classroom based activity.

Mrs H-Y’s Calm Down Room

This virtual resource has a variety items within the room that can be clicked on to reveal calming or distracting short films or games. Ideal if you need to self-regulate, relax or decompress.

Calm Keys

These are a collection of affirmations or instructions you carry on a key fob that can reassure you if you feel anxious or provide clear instructions on what you need to do if you are feeling panicky or scared. You can make these yourself or use the ones created by the charity Anxiety UK.

Make a Calm Down Kit

While originally devised for children, to help with self-regulation, you can make your own Calm Down Kit that might include:

  • Blowing Bubbles
  • Fidget cube, spinner or stressball
  • Calm Down Jar (see above)
  • Weighted or soft blanket
  • Plushie or comfort toy/cushion
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Music/playlist
  • Self-help books (or any book/podcast that helps distract and soothe)
  • Affirmation/meditation cards
  • Slime, dough or funny putty
  • Scented oils
  • Hand cream or cooling foot gel
  • Adult colouring books and coloured pencils
  • Wooden massage roller

You may want to keep these in a box at home or carry some in a bag for work/travel. A Calm Down Kit can also be a nice gift for a friend or colleague you know might appreciate some TLC.

Mindfulness Techniques

Many of the suggestions and resources below are based on mindfulness which I’ve explained elsewhere as “a technique to help you feel stronger emotionally and better able to enjoy and engage with life.  While it has its roots in Buddhism, you can be any religion or none and still use it. Put simply it means focusing on what is going on around you right now (in your mind, body, and immediate surroundings).  It can allow you to be aware of how you are thinking or feeling (physically or emotionally); note unhelpful or destructive thoughts; feel calmer and reduce panic; and build emotional resilience. During mindfulness exercises you might pause, sit or lie down and (as described above) note your surroundings, pay attention to your breathing, and also any thoughts that come into your mind. It may be you don’t think of anything, or all kinds of thoughts come to you. As they do, let them in, note them without an attempt to develop, fix, or pass judgement. You are simply observing what occurs during the time you are doing this exercise (people find a couple of minutes is good at first, building to 5,10 or 15 minutes). At the end of this exercise take a moment to think about what was in your head (if anything). It might be something you decide to leave behind, or come back to” (Coping With Pregnancy Loss, 2018, p.92).

You’ll recognise this exercise if you’ve found this post via #BeingWellInAcademia Use this activity to focus and calm you if you’re struggling with panic or anxiety.

  1. Pick up, or look at, an item that’s within your sight/reach.
  2. Close your eyes feel the object – what is it like?
  3. Does the object smell of anything?
  4. If it’s safe to taste it, what does it taste like?
  5. Does it make a noise if you carefully shake it?
  6. What properties does it have (weight, texture etc)?
  7. How many different ways could you describe the object?
  8. Reflect on the object, do you see it differently or have you learned something new about it?

The aim is to help you calm, slow down, and appreciate that any object might be understood differently with just a bit of time.

Coming to your senses

Use different senses as a means of distraction, hyper-focus, or relaxation. You may want to list what your favourite tastes, smells, sounds etc are and maybe find ways to enjoy them. Or extend the exercise above by noting how different objects can be explored by different senses.  If you’re eating a meal, having a shower or bath, or sitting outside there are opportunities to experience the world around you in a variety of different ways. Zoning in on particular senses to heighten your awareness or enjoyment.

Using one or more of your senses together, pick from:

What can you see?  Set yourself the challenge of spotting as many things as possible in a minute, or how many similar things can be found in the same place. Alternatively you could watch the birds outside or the clouds in the sky.

The things you feel. Maybe it’s the temperature, how a chair feels beneath you, or objects you can tough.

How many things can you hear? If you are indoors that might be the sound of a clock ticking, a car driving by, birdsong, or footsteps of someone walking past outside. Note how these sounds might differ depending on the time of day or the day of the week.

Can you smell coffee or a meal cooking? Maybe there’s a fresh smell outdoors as you open the window. How many different smells can you identify. Or maybe you have a favourite scent – lemon juice, soap, freshly dried laundry that you like to sniff.

Set yourself a taste test with a variety of foodstuffs to explore. If your eyes are closed or you aren’t told what you’re eating can you guess what each item is?  During a meal take time to explore the different flavours on your plate. (adapted from Being Well In Academia).


If you’re in a panic try the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. Sit quietly and notice:

5 things you can see

4 things you can feel

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell (or think about two favourite smells)

1 thing you can taste (or one kind thing you can tell yourself).

Adapt this if some of your senses are impaired (for example you might focus on  4,3,2,1 or 5,4,2). Use this approach to slow you down, notice your surroundings and gather yourself.

There’s a guided video for this activity here from Social and Emotional Learning.

Manage your breathing

Here you use your hands to guide your breathing, tracing your finger over your other hand to count breaths in and out. Although aimed at a young audience this film provides a clear explainer on how to do it.

“If you are in crisis you may struggle to breathe, or feel as if you are drowning or suffocating.  Recognising these are symptoms of shock and panic and actively changing how you breathe can have powerful results.  You can do this with breathing exercises – concentrating on counting how long you are inhaling, holding and exhaling for; while noting how your breath sounds as it goes out and in. Some people also visualize breathing in kindness, confidence or love and breathing out pain and panic.  There are a number of variations on this exercise. Some people like breathing in, holding and out for the same number of seconds (e.g. in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4). While others prefer in for 4, hold for 7 out for 8 (called the 4,7,8 method). You can work out which is most comfortable for you.” from Coping With Pregnancy Loss (p.91).  A guided explainer from 365 Days of Meditation can be found here

Body Scan

You can relax plus release tension by using body scanning. Gradually working through each part of your body, paying attention to each area, noticing pain or discomfort, and relaxing all of your body from top to end.  Some people prefer to set aside 30-45 minutes as a time out exercise during the day, others like this as a bed time wind down. Here’s a description on how to do this:

“While sitting or lying, focus on your toes, wriggling them and tensing them before relaxing, moving on up through your body through calves, knees, thighs, stomach, chest, fingers, hands, arms and finally your neck and face.  You can also repeat this in descending order. If you have numbness or lack of feeling due to paralysis or nerve damage, or are limbless or an amputee you may wish to focus on parts of the body where you do have sensation. This is a gentle exercise not physical activity so if anything hurts then stop and try another time.  Or try the ‘warm jelly’ exercise. As before you begin at your feet and imagine you are slowly being filled with warm, orange jelly. It moves up through your body until you feel weighed down by it. After holding that feeling for a short time you imagine all the jelly running out from your toes, emptying through your body and carrying any sadness or negative emotions you have with it. If you don’t like the idea of jelly then warm sand, or imaging you are being filled with sunlight might be a good alternative” from Coping With Pregnancy Loss (p.91). There’s more information on trying Body Scanning in this video


Candle Meditation

“For the candle meditation, light a candle (you can do this in a light or dark room but many find a darkened room is more effective). Sit comfortably, facing the candle and begin to watch it. It may take some practice to keep focused on the candle and you may find your gaze moves away, every time it does just bring it back to the candle. Notice the size of the flame, the colour, how it moves. It might help you to focus your feelings into the candle, thinking positive thoughts of your baby or imagine letting the light of the candle help you feel warmer inside.  Repeating this over time may allow you to build up the amount of time you wish to spend on the exercise.”  from Coping With Pregnancy Loss (p. 92-3).  If you prefer to use a virtual candle like the one in this video (with music).

For all of the above exercise you can do them alone, or with your family. If you are separated from loved ones you might agree a time where you’re all doing a particular exercise, possibly joining each other online or discussing after you’ve tried to relax and calm how that has worked for you.

Other useful resources and readings

These are apps, websites or tools to guide you through mindfulness and meditation techniques. You may want to try a few to see which works for you.

The NHS has information on how to practice mindfulness with links to videos explaining how to do it.

Be Mindful is a guided, digital mindfulness course.

Mindful Powers is designed for children and young people but adults may also find calming the nervous flibbertigibbet character soothing and fun.

Anxiety UK have a range of free resources, alongside colouring books, self-help books and other paid for resources and courses available via there website, including this CBT Art Workbook.

Headspace is a mindfulness and meditation app, while Shine is aimed at reducing and managing anxiety.

Moodjuice have a number of free guides on relaxation, audio guides on coping with a variety of mental health issues, and mindfulness resources.

Calm provides daily meditation and sleep stories.

British Army’s free Mindfulness Course

Insight Timer is a free meditation app to aid sleep and relaxation.

Breathworks (they offer taster sessions to see if this is something that works for you).

Pema Chödrön’s Compassion Cards

You can do all things: drawings, affirmations and mindfulness to help with anxiety and depression by Kate Allan.

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