Feeling stressed or anxious? You’re not alone! Learning how to calm yourself down is an important life skill, especially during the middle school years when emotions can feel like a rollercoaster. This comprehensive guide covers techniques, habits, mindsets and more to help you chill out and feel more in control.
- Deep breathing exercises, meditation and yoga can quickly calm your nervous system.
- Positive self-talk, gratitude and humor can shift negative thought patterns.
- Creating routines, exercising, journaling and spending time outdoors are healthy long-term strategies.
- Understanding the common causes of stress and altering your reactions is key for resilience.
- Support networks, good sleep, healthy eating and down time also help you stay balanced.
Breathing Exercises to Press Pause
When you’re mad, sad, worried or overwhelmed, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, which activates your body’s “fight or flight” response. By taking a few minutes to slow your breathing, you can flip the switch to rest and digest, bringing your heart rate and cortisol levels back down.
Try this simple 4-7-8 breathing technique:
- Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and hands in your lap.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can.
- Seal your lips and inhale slowly through your nose while mentally counting to 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8.
- Repeat for 5-10 cycles, focusing on keeping a steady, slow rhythm.
Or test out equal breathing:
- Inhale for 4 seconds.
- Hold for 4 seconds.
- Exhale for 4 seconds.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Focus on keeping your breathing smooth and full. The equal lengths help promote a calm state. Place a hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with each breath.
Here are some breathing tips:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
- Silently count the seconds in your head or use an app/timer.
- If you feel dizzy, shorten the length of your breaths.
- When you notice your mind wandering, gently refocus on your counting and sensation of breathing.
- Imagine the stress leaving your body each time you exhale. Stay present.
- Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth to slow the exhalation.
Regular practice conditions your body to tap into a relaxed state. But even 1-2 minutes of mindful breathing when you’re anxious or angry can short-circuit the stress response.
Leverage the Power of Meditation
Meditation is essentially quiet, conscious breathing. Set aside 5-15 minutes to sit comfortably, close your eyes, focus on your breath and clear your mind. As thoughts pop up, acknowledge them briefly then let them drift away while returning your attention to your breath.
Some tips for beginners:
- Use an app like Calm, Headspace or Insight Timer to guide your sessions.
- Focus on anchoring yourself in the present rather than trying to empty your mind completely.
- Gently scan your body and release tension from your head, shoulders, back etc.
- If your mind is really busy, silently count each breath from 1-10, then repeat.
- Open your eyes and re-focus if you feel sleepy. Meditation is meant to be relaxing but not napping!
- Be patient and don’t get frustrated with yourself. Minds wander! The practice is noticing when you’re distracted and gently bringing your focus back.
Benefits of regular meditation include:
- Decreased anxiety, depression and stress
- More ability to manage emotions and reactions
- Better concentration and memory
- Increased happiness and well-being
Think of meditation as mental training that builds your calm muscle. Some days it’ll feel great and other days will be a struggle. Stick with it and over time you’ll get better at entering a meditative state whenever you need to decompress.
Establish a Relaxing Yoga Routine
Yoga combines breathing, meditation and gentle movement to relax your body and mind. Flowing through poses brings awareness into your muscles, increases flexibility, improves circulation and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to lower stress.
Here are some calming poses to try:
- Child’s Pose: Kneel with toes together and sit back on your heels. Stretch your arms forward and lower your chest between your knees to the floor. Hold for 5 slow breaths.
- Cat/Cow: Get on all fours with a flat back. Inhale and arch your back, dropping your belly toward the floor (cow pose). Exhale and round your back toward the ceiling while pulling your belly button in (cat pose). Repeat 5-10 times, moving with your breath.
- Forward Fold: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips, draping your upper body over your legs like a rag doll. Let your head and arms hang, relaxing your neck. Hold for 8-10 breaths.
- Legs Up the Wall: Sit sideways beside a wall. Roll onto your back, swinging your legs up the wall while scooting your hips as close as is comfortable. Extend arms out to sides, palms up. Rest for 5-10 minutes.
For more ideas, follow along with yoga videos on YouTube designed to cultivate inner peace, like Yoga With Adriene. Experiment with different instructors and lengths until you find what resonates. The key is linking movement and breath together in a soothing flow.
Shift Your Inner Narrative
The way you talk to yourself plays a huge role in your emotional state. During stressful times, it’s easy to fall into negative self-talk patterns filled with fear, harsh criticism and doubt. Learning to reframe your internal monologue can help calm you down by changing the mental channel from chaotic to uplifting.
Tips for positive self-talk:
- Actively listen to your inner voice. What phrases do you use most with yourself? How could you rephrase them to be kinder?
- Pretend you’re talking to a good friend when giving yourself advice or reassurance. We’re often much harsher on ourselves.
- Replace “I can’t…” with “I’ll try” or “I’m learning how to…” to instill a growth mindset.
- Avoid absolute words like “always” or “never” that set unrealistic standards that fuel anxiety.
- Find empowering mantras like “I am strong” or “I can handle this.” Repeat them silently when struggling.
- Visualize desired outcomes and affirm that they are possible rather than assuming failure.
- Validate your feelings in a soothing tone. “It’s understandable I feel worried about this test. But I’m going to take some deep breaths and do my best.”
- Celebrate any wins or progress made, even if they seem small. Give yourself props for putting in effort.
With consistent practice, you can reprogram your mental default from judgmental to compassionate. This will reduce everyday stress and make it easier to calm yourself in moments of distress.
Harness the Healing Power of Humor
They say laughter is the best medicine, and science backs this up. Chuckling releases feel-good endorphins, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and boosts immune cells. When you’re in an anxious, sad or angry place, tapping into humor can work like a reset button for both your mind and body.
Here are some ways to lighten the mood when you’re frazzled:
- Crack jokes. Laughter really is contagious, so tell some lighthearted stories or punny jokes to get your funny bone warmed up.
- Watch a comedy. Queue up a funny show, movie or funny YouTube compilation. Let the silliness lift your spirits vicariously.
- Read comics or humor writing. Dive into LOL-worthy memes, comics, anecdotes or tweets for a digital dose of comedy.
- Call a funny friend. Share some laughs recounting hilarious memories or random banter with a friend who always makes your cheeks hurt from smiling.
- Play with a pet. Kittens wrestling or dogs chasing their tails can provide some serious comic relief.
- Go outside. Cloud-gazing and noticing silly scenarios unfolding around you can spark delight.
- Get moving. Bust out some ridiculous dance moves or have a tickle fight with a sibling to get the endorphins pumping.
- Make funny faces. Contorting your face into silly expressions, especially in the mirror, is a fast way to fire up the giggle reflex.
The key is to not take yourself too seriously in the moment. Lightening your perspective can diffuse tension quickly. Maintain a mental list of reliable go-to mood boosters you can call upon when needed.
Establish Routines and Rituals
Living a balanced life with regular routines lays a healthy foundation that makes handling stress easier overall. The structure helps avoid chaos and overscheduling that contributes to burnout. Downtime and rituals also serve as mini mental resets through your day or week.
Ideas for routines:
- Wake up and go to bed at consistent times to prioritize sleep.
- Schedule daily blocks for exercise to improve mood.
- Plan set times for homework so it doesn’t bleed into all your hours.
- Eat meals without distractions to nurture rather than rush your body.
- Unplug for blocks of time and enjoy offline hobbies and social connection.
- Establish tech-free zones or times at home like the dinner table.
Rituals help provide anchors:
- Start each day writing gratitudes in a journal.
- Diffuse calming essential oils while getting ready for school.
- Walk the dog as a daily grounding activity.
- Unwind before bed with a cup of herbal tea.
- Listen to a mindfulness track while stretching after school.
- Take deep breaths before tackling hard tasks or situations.
Routines create healthy habits over time while rituals remind you to regularly pause and enter a calmer state even on busy days. Establish small practices you can stick with and take each day one step at a time.
Make Exercise Your Outlet
Moving your body is a proven way to blow off steam, release endorphins and improve your mental health. It doesn’t need to be hardcore or require a gym membership. The key is finding activities you genuinely enjoy and can fit into your life.
Here are some accessible exercise options to try:
- Walk or jog outside or on a treadmill. Vary your speed or terrain for intervals.
- Ride a bike around the neighborhood, on trails or a stationary bike.
- Swim laps or play pool games at your local community center or YMCA/YWCA.
- Dance to fun music in your bedroom or use Just Dance videos. Have a household dance party!
- Do bodyweight workouts like squats, lunges, planks, push-ups and sit-ups in your room. No equipment required!
- Take a class like martial arts, rock climbing, yoga, spin, Zumba or circus – get creative! Many offer kid rates.
- Play sports at school or a recreational league like soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, flag football and more.
- Work out to videos on YouTube, apps or game consoles. There are programs for all fitness levels.
Tips to build the habit:
- Attach exercise to an existing routine like going for a walk after dinner with your family.
- Schedule workouts in your calendar so you commit time to them. Plan active playdates with friends!
- Start small with 10-15 minutes and increase duration over time as it feels good. Something is always better than nothing!
- Pick uplifting music, podcasts or books on tape to make it fun.
- Log your activity to stay on track. Apps like Fitbit or Apple Watch gamify movement.
- Remind yourself how good you’ll feel afterward. The hardest part is just getting started!
Moving your body is a healthy outlet for stress while making you feel more energized and confident. Find activities you enjoy that help you channel restless energy productively.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude journals help recalibrate your mindset from negative to positive. Carving out five minutes each day to write down things you appreciate counteracts the natural tendency to focus on problems or what seems lacking. Shifting your gaze to blessings, good news and simple pleasures cultivates more contentment from the inside out.
To start a gratitude journal:
- Set a reminder to write daily, like after brushing your teeth at night. Routine = success!
- List 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. From big to small, mundane to exciting.
- Write why each one makes you feel grateful. How did it impact or enrich your life?
- Re-read previous entries periodically to reinforce the positive mindset.
Some journaling ideas:
- Friends who make you laugh
- Seeing the sunset on your walk home
- Acing a test you studied hard for
- Your cozy bed
- Learning a new skill
- The smell of your mom’s cooking
- A fun memory that made you smile
- Having a pet greet you after school
Focusing on gratitude rewires your brain over time to pay more attention to the positives than daily stressors. Maintaining perspective helps ward off anxiety and depression. It’s powerful preventative medicine!
Spend Time in Nature
Did you know spending time outdoors can lower stress, improve mood and reduce anxiety? Something as simple as going for a walk, hike or bike ride in nature provides mental health benefits. Research shows your brain relaxes in natural environments.
Here are some ways to tap into nature’s therapeutic effects:
- Take a walking meeting with a friend instead of sitting inside. Chat side-by-side on a trail or around the neighborhood.
- Enjoy your snack/lunch outside under a nice tree instead of the noisy cafeteria.
- Add houseplants to your room to bring the outdoors in. Caring for them fosters calm.
- Schedule weekend camping trips or day hiking excursions with your family or youth group.
- Ride bike trails through wooded parks to enjoy being active surrounded by greenery.
- Fly a kite at the beach, breathe in the sea air and listen to the waves crash.
- Volunteer to care for horses at a stable or help out on a family farm.
- Try forest bathing by finding a quiet natural setting to sit, relax and soak in.
Being in nature helps restore mental energy and perspective. Make outdoor adventures, gardening and deeper connections with animals part of your routine.
Understand Common Stress Triggers
Handling stressful situations better starts with understanding common causes. Some pressures are inescapable, while others can be managed, minimized or reframed. Know your personal triggers so you can anticipate challenges and build resilience.
Top middle school stressors include:
- Academic pressure – piles of homework, studying for tests, competitive classmates
- Social drama – gossip, bullying, cliques, exclusion, maintaining friendships
- Physical changes from puberty – body image, hormones, menstruation, voice changes
- Heavy activities load – sports, music, clubs on top of schoolwork
- Lack of free time for hobbies and family
- Comparison or judgment from peers and social media
- Fights or tension with siblings and parents
- Worrying about the future – school, relationships, college, career
Tips to build resilience:
- Vent to trusted friends and adults – feeling heard helps!
- Stick to routines, but adjust schedules if things feel out of balance.
- Set boundaries around responsibilities, social media usage and peer pressure. Just say no!
- Advocate for yourself to change situations causing chronic stress.
- Adopt healthy coping mechanisms like exercising vs emotional eating.
- Practice self-care by making time for fun and relaxation. All work and no play is draining!
- Focus only on what’s in your control. Let go of the rest.
- Ask for help! Friends, parents, teachers and counselors can support you.
Learning to roll with life’s punches prevents getting knocked down as often. Give yourself permission to feel stressed, while building up your arsenal of healthy coping strategies.
Cultivate Your Support Network
They say “It takes a village” and this is especially true for middle schoolers. Having trusted friends, mentors and family in your corner provides a safety net when you feel overwhelmed. Loneliness and isolation tend to exacerbate anxiety and depression. Surrounding yourself with positive people who “get you” is essential.
Tips for building relationships:
- Make new friends by joining activities, talking to classmates and organizing get togethers.
- Deepen friendships by opening up, listening without judgment and making quality time.
- Lean on peers who balance having fun with making good choices. Ditch toxic relationships.
- Identify adult mentors – teachers, coaches, youth leaders etc. – who offer guidance.
- Spend device-free family time playing games, cooking meals, exercising or volunteering together.
- Bond with siblings through friendly competition like board games or making each other laugh.
- Schedule regular video calls with relatives to stay connected if they live far away.
- Adopt a pet! Caring for an animal teaches empathy and they provide unconditional love.