How to calm yourself in tricky situations

Everyday life can throw so many responsibilities at you. Homework, revision, squeezing in a part-time job - or a complete curveball like a cancelled train just before an important appointment.

There’s so many of these things we simply can’t control, but we do have a say over the way we react to them.

GP and BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks regular Dr Radha Modgil has given us three tips which are simple, but grounded in neuroscience and incredibly effective in keeping you calm during life’s trickier moments. Watching the film might actually make you feel calmer too!

Dr Radha shares three tips on keeping calm in any situation

Control your breath

It may sound too simple to be true but there really are benefits from controlling the way you breathe during times of stress.

Dr Radha’s method is to take a deep breath through the nose for five seconds. Hold it for a second, then slowly push all the air out through the nose, while counting to five. Do it a few times and you should feel a lot calmer. Watch the video above for a demonstration on how to do this in the most effective way.

Dr Radha explained: “Research has identified a specific network of neurons in the brain stem called the pre-Botzinger complex that regulates breathing and communicates with other parts of the brain.”

When we’re stressed, we breathe more quickly because our body is preparing to escape the situation. If you’ve just taken your seat in an exam you’re feeling nervous about, running away is not an option. The deeper breathing lets your brain know the situation isn’t dangerous and will help restore control. It’s such a discreet method, only you will know it’s happening - even if you’re about to deliver a speech to a hall filled with people.

A real hum-dinger

Ever head of the vagus nerve? It begins in your brain and travels through the body, making connections to the heart, lungs, stomach, ears and vocal chords.

The vagus nerve runs around the body and connects the brain to major organs

Vagus comes from the Latin words for wanderer and if you stimulate that nerve in the correct way, it can reduce stress. And one of the best ways to do that is through humming, which helps to regulate the heartbeat.

Dr Radha said: “A study of choristers showed that singing, humming and mantras all help keep the heart’s rhythm in step. The next time you feel your heart racing, sing a song or just hum a note and let your own wanderer nerve restore calm.”

Eyes on the prize

A full diary can lead to people juggling tasks. Some of those jobs can even be left half-finished before moving on to the next.

But Dr Radha’s final tip is how multitasking isn’t always the answer. There’s even scientific evidence to prove it - brain scans show it can be overstimulated by too many responsibilities and sends out stress hormones as a result.

If the moment feels as though it’s falling away from you, try to focus on one task

To stop this from happening, focus on the task in hand and blank everything else out. It seems to be the way your brain prefers it.

Dr Radha said: “Break your task down into small parts or steps, circle the one thing you need to do next, and forget about the other tasks until their time comes.

“This is sometimes called process thinking and is used by sports coaches to help athletes focus. Doing just one thing at a time with your fullest attention keeps your mind in the here and now, and is a great habit to develop.”

It’s three tips which might just help you out in a sticky moment. Get your breathing right. Focus. And even try humming a tune.

Watch out for more videos offering tips on making the most of your time and life's bigger decisions, made in collaboration with our colleagues at BBC Ideas.

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