The Science of Calm

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

In therapy, there are many techniques that I often suggest to clients to help them come back to a calmer state. Many of these techniques are connected to biological reactions to triggers that induce a calmer state. There is a science to these exercises, which have been proved useful for when we need help managing emotions. Here are a few of the more common calming techniques to help you relax and de-stress:

Breathing Exercises

One of the most common practices I have shared with my clients regards learning the proper way to breathe. Fortunately, there is an easy routine you can follow to help you breathe to feel calmer and relaxed.

First, try breathing in twice as fast as you breathe out. For example, breathe in to the count of three and breathe out to the count of six. When we breathe in, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated. This is the area of our brain that is responsible for our fight-or-flight or stress response. When we breathe out, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated. This is the area of the brain that is responsible for relaxation. When we breathe out longer than we breathe in, we will slowly calm ourselves down, over time.

Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with pursed lips. This practice also activates the PNS area of the brain and can help us reach a calmer state.

Make sure you are breathing diaphragmatically, which means to breathe from your stomach or diaphragm instead of your chest. When we take shallow breaths (chest breaths), we activate a panicky sensation that can increase anxiety in moments when we may not need to be anxious. Breathe from your stomach regularly, so you do not trigger this response.

Test if you are breathing from your diaphragm by feeling the temperature of your out-breath on your hand. If your breath feels cold, your breathing is shallow; if the temperature is warm, you are breathing diaphragmatically. You can also put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. The hand that rises as you breathe in is where your breath is coming from. If your breathing is shallow, practice breathing from your stomach so that you begin to breathe this way more naturally.

Cold Water

When you splash cold water on your face, take a cold shower or drink cold water while holding your breath, you activate the “dive response.” This response tricks your brain into believing you are underwater, which slows down your heart rate and redirects the majority of your blood to the brain and heart. After exposure to cold water, your body and mind will slowly start to calm down so you can manage these intense emotions more easily.


Floating in water has many health benefits. Floating increases our blood circulation and allows oxygen to be distributed more efficiently throughout our body and helps the brain to function more effectively. Floating can also cause the brain to release endorphins, which can improve our mood.


I encourage you to try these calming techniques when you are feeling stressed or having trouble managing emotions. But for these skills to be most effective, it is important to practice them regularly. In doing so, you are preparing yourself for difficult times when you might need them most.


Kallevang, B. How Floating Can Change Our Brains Incredibly, According To Science. Retrieved from

Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

McKay, M., Wood, J. C. & Brantley, J. (2007). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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ASMR: Good Mood Via Goosebumps

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Picture Credit: Shutterstock

By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

I learn a lot from my kids. Recently, I found my teenage son and his friends viewing videos together. Much to my surprise, what I observed was a great example of a self-care exercise. Upon inquiring about the content of said videos, they told me it was called ASMR.

I had never heard of such videos, so naturally, my interest was piqued. After some research, I found that ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and that it may actually be a useful tool in maintaining well-being and happiness. According to writer (and mother of five) Crystal Ponti, ASMR is a “physical sensation characterized by a tingling feeling that typically starts at the scalp and then travels down the spine.” This can otherwise be known as frisson, a sudden feeling of excitement or even tingling, often manifesting itself in the form of goosebumps.

One may wonder how ASMR correlates with mental health. To begin with, it is brought out by visual, auditory, or touch stimuli in the body that promotes a calming response in the central nervous system (Ponti). A 2015 study in the journal PeerJ reported that, following ASMR, participants experienced “feelings of well-being, improved mood, stress and anxiety relief, and relaxation” (Coleman). Those who experienced ASMR found that they felt more calm and positive. Additionally, it has been reported to induce temporary relief of chronic pain, stress, and depression. Some have claimed that sounds such as typing on a keyboard give small sensations similar to the feeling of love. It puts people in a “womb-like intimacy” (James).

Examples of ASMR inducers include:

  • Whispering (the soft sound triggers soothing tingles)
  • Tapping (this rhythmic trance can aid in sleep and relaxation)
  • Scratching (most commonly practiced on hard surfaces, it can be soft or hard tapping; either produces a nice sensation)
  • Blowing (especially in the ear, the sound and feeling of a gentle breeze can be very relaxing)
  • Page turning (turning pages offers a delicate sound one may find pleasing to the ears)
  • Concentration (while unexpected, concentrating on a single task can make one feel good)
  • Eating (while potentially gross, the sound of chewing food can be immensely satisfying to some)
  • Hand movements (visual appealing, sends viewers into a relaxing and meditative state)
  • Plastic crinkling (think bubble wrap)


The sensations triggered by ASMR have become quite popular among youth and adults alike. And for good reason. It is particularly useful in terms of self-care and is readily available to anyone who may be interested. If you’re struggling with finding relief from anxiety, depression, stress, or if you are having trouble sleeping, ASMR is worth a shot!


Ponti, Crystal. “What Is ASMR, and How Can It Benefit Your Kid’s Mental Health?” Motherly, 12 June 2018,

Coleman, Erin. “Does ASMR Ease Anxiety?” Benefits Bridge, United Concordia Companies, 5 July 2017,

James, Paul. “How ASMR Can Relieve Anxiety.” Voices of Mental Health, AMS Creative Studio, 25 July 2018,

“15 Of The Most Common ASMR Triggers.” LOLWOT, 17 Mar. 2015,

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Letting Go of Anger and Anxiety

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photo credit: Sayan Puangkham)

By Dr. Elaine Townsend, Ed.D.

Per the American Psychological Association, anger is normal and typically a healthy emotion. It becomes harmful when we lose control and it becomes damaging (APA, 2018).

According to a study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, close to 8 percent of adolescents display anger issues that qualify for a diagnoses of intermittent explosive disorder. However, anger issues aren’t limited to difficult teens (, 2018).

Individuals who have problems controlling anger can present with different types of anger disorders:

  • Chronic anger, which is prolonged, can impact the immune system and be the cause of other mental disorders.
  • Passive anger, which doesn’t always come across as anger and can be difficult to identify.
  • Self-inflicted anger, which is directed toward the self and may be caused by feelings of guilt.
  • Judgmental anger, which is directed toward others and may come with feelings of resentment.
  • Volatile anger, which involves sometimes spontaneous bouts of excessive or violent anger (, 2018).


Strong emotions can cause physical changes to the body. A few of these physical symptoms of anger are tingling, heart palpitations or tightening of the chest, increased blood pressure, headaches, pressure in the head or sinus cavities, and fatigue ( These are some of the same symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition that affects millions of individuals. Moreover, hostility and internalized anger contributed to the severity of their GAD symptoms. Experts suggests that anger and anxiety go hand in hand, and that increased levels of anger are uniquely related to GAD status (, 2015).

The use of relaxation techniques can help with calming down. Try deep breathing from the diaphragm and repeat words or phases such as “relax” and “calm down” while you take your deep breaths. Also, use visualization of a relaxing time or place (, 2018).

Work on cognitive restructuring to change your thoughts. Remind yourself that your anger is not fixing anything. Logic defeats anger, because anger can become irrational. Become aware of changing demands into desires. Anger helps avoid feeling disappointed, but the disappointment usually doesn’t go away.

To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace of mind.”


Anger Symptoms, Causes and Effects (2018). Retrieved from

Between Anger and Anxiety (2015). Retrieved from

Braingquotes Quote (2018).Retrieved from

Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. (2018). Retrieved from

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