Seven Ways to Cultivate Calm and Practice Self-Care

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. Associate Editor

Cultivating CalmSome of us have a hard time relaxing. A very hard time. Maybe our minds race and rarely stop. I still need to finish those tasks on my list. What about that other thing? I can’t relax now, I need to wash the dishes, dust, fold the laundry, sweep, pay the bills, fix that problem and…Maybe our bodies are tense and tend to be on high alert. Often.

But we don’t have to resign ourselves to feeling on edge all the time or most of the time. We don’t have to resign ourselves to not being unable to unwind or breathe a sigh of relief. Regularly. We can cultivate calm by practicing a variety of healthy techniques.

If you’re struggling with genuinely relaxing (or simply want to try different strategies), the below might make good options. Some suggestions focus on alleviating anxiety in the moment, while others may do so over time.

Visualize a safe and soothing place.

“Close your eyes, and visualize a place where you feel the most safe, peaceful and relaxed,” said Ashley Thorn, a LMFT, a psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples and families in Salt Lake City, Utah. Then she suggested experiencing this place with all your senses:

What do you see? Maybe you see certain colors, shapes and objects.
What do you hear? Focus on the different sounds surrounding you.
What do you smell? What would you like to smell?
What do you taste? “Imagine a fresh, clean taste or try tasting something that is there.”
What do you feel? Maybe you feel the warmth of the sun or the cool of the breeze. Maybe you feel sand between your toes. Maybe there’s something you want to reach out and touch.
Pen a love list.

This tip comes from the book A Mindful Morning: Start Each Day with a Clear Mind and Open Heart by David Dillard-Wright. He suggests creating a list of things, activities, people and places that you love. Then think of ways you can express your love or increase your contact with your loves. Return to this list when you need a reminder of the beauty in your life.

Practice gentle yoga.

Moving our bodies is a wonderful way to relax and care for ourselves. One of my favorite resources for practicing yoga is Anna Guest-Jelley’s Curvy Yoga. Try her “morning wake-up practice” on YouTube or this written 5-minute sequence. You can find more resources on her website.

Tense your limbs.

Hold your arms or legs out in front of you. “You can do two arms at a time, two legs at a time, one limb at a time,” Thorn said. Next, flex or tense each limb until you feel a burn. Then let each limb drop abruptly. Keep repeating this exercise until your body feels relaxed, she said.

Self CareCreate a pleasing space.

In The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook, Elaine N. Aron suggests readers create a beautiful, simple place for private downtime. Here you might meditate, pray, read or simply be. Include objects that appeal to your senses. For instance, include candles, flowers or essential oils. Make a fountain with rocks. Have a goldfish in a bowl. Wrap yourself in a blanket or other comforting fabric. Savor a favorite drink, such as a cup of fragrant tea.

Focus on an object.

Thorn suggested picking any object in the room you’re currently in. Describe the object to yourself, identifying as many details as you can. This helps to decelerate our thoughts and refocus our minds.

Create a comfort journal.

According to Jennifer Louden in The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life, “a comfort journal is a safe place where you can doodle, compose, paste and jot anything that relates to your ideas of self-nurturing. It is a place where you can lose yourself in creating your personal sourcebook of comfort.”

This isn’t about creating artistic perfection. In fact, it’s not about art at all. It’s about what pleases you. Gather any magazines and art supplies you have in your home. Louden suggests exploring what being good to yourself looks like or creating a collage of comforting images. Or simply go with the flow, and create whatever comes to mind.

Pick the suggestions that resonate with you. And if none do, consider gathering your own collection of healthy strategies. Because having a toolbox of options is a powerful way to soothe your stress and take compassionate care of yourself. And, of course, sometimes, taking several deep breaths is all you need to access calm. Because it is within you. We just might need a bit of practice.