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How Can I Calm Myself Down? Cognitive Self-Calming Methods

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

When you experience intense anxiety, anger, or sadness, you might need to calm yourself. Do you know how? It’s important that you find self-calming methods that work best for you. There are physical and cognitive methods for self-calming, and they often overlap (for an account of common methods of physical self-calming, see my blog piece titled How Can I Calm Myself Down? Physical Self-Calming Methods).

Try these cognitive self-calming methods in order to discover which work the best work for you:  

Play the “ABC Game” 

When you’re experiencing intense emotions, your brain might need to quickly refocus, which may help calm you. The ABC game is a simple and engaging way for your brain to refocus. First, choose a topic that you find entertaining. This needs to be a topic that you know something about. A few examples of topics are names of cities, children’s movies, 80s rock bands, sports teams, and U.S. presidents. Once you’ve chosen a topic, identify one item in that topic for each letter of the alphabet, starting with A and ending with Z. For example, if you choose U.S. presidents, you could say, Adams, Biden, and Coolidge. See if you can make it all the way to the letter Z. If you get stuck, that’s ok. This will allow your brain to become absorbed in the game instead of focusing on what may have caused you to feel upset. When playing the ABC game, don’t choose a topic that is too easy or too difficult. Choose a topic that is entertaining to you, and try not to cheat by looking up answers on your phone. 

Ground With Your Senses 

Grounding is a mindfulness technique that can help calm you by quickly bringing your mind into the present. Use your five senses — sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste — to help you connect with the present. Here are a few ideas:

Sight 

  • Name five things you can see in your environment. 
  • Look for specific things in your environment, such as a certain color or shape. You can look for things that are blue or that are small circles. 

Sound

  • Stop and listen. Identify all the sounds you can hear. 
  • Make your own sound and focus on it. You can tap a pen on a table, snap your finder, hum, or sing. 

Touch

  • Touch something to your skin and notice how it feels. You can touch your clothing, keys, phone, or whatever is nearby. Pay attention to different textures and temperatures. 
  • Notice your body’s temperature. Where on your skin do you feel warm, cold, or neutral? 

Smell

  • Smell all the scents in your environment. How many can you smell? Are they pleasant or not?
  • Create your own scent and focus on it. You can use essential oil, perfume/cologne, incense, a scented candle, or anything that has a pleasant smell.  

Taste

  • Taste something that you enjoy. It could be a mint, a piece of candy, coffee, or any type of food. Don’t just consume it. Really attend to it and notice how it tastes. 
  • Drink a cold or warm beverage. Notice how it feels in your mouth and how it feels as it travels down your throat. 

Recitation

Do you have something memorized, but it takes focus to recite it? If so, try reciting this when you need to calm yourself. This method can help your brain to refocus. Try to avoid things that are easy to recite, such as the Pledge of Allegiance or the ABCs. Instead, choose something that’s more difficult, such as a poem, a speech, song lyrics, or phrases in another language. Choose something you care about or something you find entertaining. 

Do you need help finding and practicing methods to self-calm? If so, a therapist can help. Explore our counseling services online to see how we can help, and contact Symmetry Counseling to connect with a therapist in Chicago, Washington D.C., or Phoenix

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