Finding a sense of calm is tricky enough for most of us on a good day, let alone a challenging day or a downright bad one.

Substances can create a temporary illusion of feeling calmness. But they are only briefly masked whatever stressful emotional experience we are trying to get away from in the first place. Frequently, we find ourselves with worse feelings than what we started with.

Substances Don't Create Lasting Calmness

There are a lot of reasons substances don’t create lasting calm. An important one that’s not often discussed is that not only are substances temporary, they create the illusion that we need something outside of ourselves to feel better. And that can make us feel a little frightened and desperate. After all, most of us experience distress and anxiety when we think about the possibility of not being able to get things—like a substance--we think we need to feel calm. There are countless ways to create feelings of calmness without relying on substances, and when we learn to use them, we feel confident and empowered that we only need the tools we already have. These are available to us anytime, anywhere.

Skill Sets For Creating Calm #1

It turns out leveraging neuroscience is easy.

Here’s a fun experiment: try thinking the word yes and saying out loud the word no at the same time. Not in quick succession, but literally at the same time. Or vice versa. The point is, for pretty sophisticated neurolinguistic reasons, you can’t do it. You might be able to say one of the words and think the other one immediately after, but you can’t do it simultaneously.

This is an important piece of information. It means that your brain has no choice but to follow words you speak out loud, and it’s a lot easier to change what your mouth is doing than what your mind is up to. Your brain also can’t ruminate on stressful thoughts (unspoken words) when you are speaking aloud words that are soothing or relaxing. Read out loud material that is relaxing, or set a timer for one or two minutes and repeat aloud a prayer, phrase, or just words related to relaxation . . . even as simple as repeating the word calm or the phrase I am calm until the timer goes off. You’ll find your brain can’t go in any other direction than what your words are pointing to.

Skill Sets For Creating Calm #2

Just stop. Do nothing but breathe.

Many of us, when we feel stressed, want to make the feeling stop. We feel the urgency to do something to make the stress go away or to “solve” whatever it is we perceive is causing it. This sense of problem-solving pressure compounds our feelings of stress. We feel stressed by the issue and even more, stressed as to what we are going to do to make it go away.

We can counter the stress of urgency by not giving in to the compulsion to do something. When you realize you are stressed and starting to frenetically look for an escape hatch, acknowledge both. Take a seat. Pick a number between thirty and fifty and take that many deep breaths. If you lose count, well done! That’s one more thing to think about while you’re sitting quietly.

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