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Sophie Blackall

Start by taking a few deep breaths to get your emotions under control. Then choose one or more of the following techniques to help clear your mind.

  • Focus on breathing. Take 10 deep breaths. Breathing may help restore the balance between the parasympathetic (or restorative) and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous systems, buffering your body’s natural reaction to stressful situations, says Brian Knutson, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University.
  • Make a pie chart. Draw a circle and create slices of a pie chart to represent all the things that are upsetting you, suggests Kase. Include everything you can think of, even if it’s as mundane as the nonstop rain outside. The act of presenting your concerns visually clarifies things, she says, making the problems easier to identify and therefore to manage.
  • Find a quiet place. “Ideally, go someplace where you can have privacy to shut down the stimulation to your brain,” says Pierce Howard, a cognitive psychologist in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the author of The Owner's Manual for the Brain. ($30, amazon.com). If you’re at a busy place, like your office or a restaurant, he suggests, head to the bathroom and take a few minutes for yourself. If you’re at home, go to your bedroom or a place that feels comforting.
  • Distract yourself. Read a favorite funny website, play with your dog, fold laundry, or wash dishes for a few minutes. “Diversions allow your emotions to calm down,” says Peter Ubel, a professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “And because your brain keeps processing the problem even when you’re not consciously thinking about it, you’ll be better able to deal with the issue once you return to it.”
  • Get some exercise. If possible, go out for a brisk walk, or do some yoga poses. “Just 10 minutes of an active and distracting activity breaks the flow of rumination and lifts people’s moods,” says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University and the author of Eating, Drinking, Overthinking ($16, amazon.com). “This leads them to think more clearly.”

  • Blow off steam. Call a patient friend. Be sure to tell her you’re not trying to fix anything―you just want a listener. “Talking through your concerns makes them seem more manageable,” says Kase. “But once you’ve vented, it’s important to let it go.”