How to CTFD (um… Calm Down)

Keep Calm over the Holidays in Los Angeles

Three Ways to Stay Calm and Enjoy Your Family This Holiday Season

dad giving advice in Los Angeles

The holidays are here, and many of us will be heading “home” this month. Going home to spend time with our family is generally a mixed bag. We look forward to it, and we dread it. No one can trigger us like Mom. Or our siblings. Or Uncle Joe. Hell, even our partner can drive us crazy when we’re trying to hold it all together until New Year’s. Especially at this time of year, we can all benefit from some advance planning about how to manage our emotions in the middle of the holiday frenzy.

In the therapy world the ability to calm ourselves down is known as “self-soothing”, or “emotional regulation”. Following are skills and techniques to help you manage your anxiety when Dad asks one more time if you are ever going to get that job he thinks you should have…

1. Identify

Recognize what’s going on before you hit the Point of No Return (I know you know what I mean here!)

2. Stop the Madness!

Ways to calm down your nervous system so you are not hijacked by your lizard brain (again, you know what I mean…!)

3. Respond Differently!

‘nuff said!

Some Background

Feel free to skip this section if you are not interested in the “Why”, and just want some techniques.

Everyone has something that triggers them, (well, probably not the Dalai Lama—but is that you?) and sometimes there are people that trigger us, no matter what they say or do.

arguing in front of the children in Los Angeles

This is not your personal failing, but rather it is simply how we are wired as humans. Certain things that happen will trigger your primitive “fight-or-flight” response. This is because, somewhere down the line when you were a young child, this same kind of event was seen as “dangerous” to your very young self. Your young self found a way to respond that was protective—maybe it was your job to keep everyone happy, so that Mom and Dad would stop fighting; or perhaps your job was to be perfect, so that Dad would stop yelling or Mom would stop drinking (it doesn’t have to be completely logical—remember you were a child!).

There are also some other ways that young children learn to cope: maybe you were the clown, keeping everyone laughing; or were you the screw-up, keep the attention on your problems so that no-one has to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Perhaps you just shut down completely, trying to be invisible and stay out of the way. Or you came up fighting, always trying your best to be seen and heard.

These are the responses that became wired into our tiny brains, and they have stayed there all our lives. When our amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that senses and responds to danger, senses a threat in our environment, it triggers us to respond in the way that “worked” for us as young children. It shuts down our PFC (pre-frontal cortex, the “thinking part of our brain”) so we can respond automatically and quickly.

The trick is to catch ourselves when the amygdala screams, “Danger, Danger, Danger” before it shuts down our PFC. We want to use our PFC to remind us of the ways we can calm our nervous system and turn off the “danger signal”.


Catch yourself as you start to go into “fight, flight, or freeze mode”.

The first signs we have are somatic—that is, you will notice the arousal in your body if you can train yourself to pay attention.

Next time you feel yourself getting triggered, notice where you feel this in your body.

If you’re already past the point of no return by the time you notice, that’s okay, this is an “information-gathering” phase.

2. Calm yourself

There are a lot of different techniques to calm down, and you have probably tried many of them already! Some of the ways that many people try to calm down are:

getting some exercise over Christmas vacation in Los Angeles

 Deep, diaphragmatic breathing



Taking a warm bath or shower

Taking a cold bath or shower

Petting a dog or cat

Taking a nap

Getting a massage

Being in nature

If you haven’t tried all of these, you might want to experiment with the things on this list. All of them have been shown to help!

Following are three ways you might not know of that you can use to calm your nervous system down so you can stay in your “thinking brain” (PFC) and not react automatically from your “lizard brain” (amygdala).

Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)

NLP is a creative way to play with the way you feel anxiety and transform it into something more manageable.

NLP for Anxiety in Los Angeles

If you feel tension in your throat, for example, then just notice that. Be as aware as you can of all the nuances of that feeling. Where exactly in your throat do you feel it? Does it feel like a tightening/constriction or a pressure? Does it get stronger and stronger or just come on hard and fast? Does it spread throughout your neck and body, or does it remain in your throat?

Next see if you can be creative with this feeling a bit. Can you imagine that it has a shape or color? Is it moving around, spinning or rotating or expanding?

Sometimes changing some of these aspects of your tense feeling can bring a lot of relief—try to maintain an attitude of playfulness and creativity.  For example, if your tension is a dark color, see if you can make it light. Add sparkles. If your tension is spinning around angrily, see if you can slow it down, or even make it spin in the other direction. Does it have sharp distinct edges? See if you can make it blurry. You get the idea.


There are many videos online that describe tapping, and the easiest way to learn this technique is to see it in action, so here’s a link to a 5-minute explanation.

There’s lots of information out there, so you can hunt around and experiment to find what works best for you. Practice several times a day until you see that you are doing it easily when you are triggered. This is especially important if you have a triggering event coming up, like oh, say, Christmas with the fam.

Energy Healing

Energy Healing in Los Angeles

Try this very quick calming technique from Energy Medicine Practitioner Carey Phillips. You can also try this one, and this one. Do it in the car right before you walk in the door after a long day of work or before you walk into the office to give that presentation. It’s not going to eliminate all of your anxiety, but it’s a good running start!

 These techniques will take you only one to two minutes and you can do them pretty much anywhere. Can’t beat that.

Don’t expect these techniques to completely eliminate your anxiety. The idea is that they will help you calm down enough to retain the ability to make better decisions about how you want to respond to whatever is triggering you.


Now the tricky part!

How to respond when something is triggering you. Of course, if you know you have something triggering coming up, you can plan ahead. If you are taken by surprise, here are some quick responses to buy you some time to come up with a response that will reflect your values and boundaries:

° Let me think about that a minute

°Wow. I need a minute to process that before I respond.

°Can we talk about that later when I’ve had some time to think?


(That’s right, you don’t have to really say anything at all. You can even change the subject.)

 And here’s my favorite, because it’s so disarming:

“Hm. You might be right.”

If they continue to “attack” after that, Just. Don’t. Respond.

getting along with your family in Los Angeles

Again, the truth is that nothing is going to eliminate all your anxiety in these situations, but if you can calm your nervous system down enough, you will be able to choose your responses in spite of your anxiety.

This can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around. The truth is, your anxiety is sometimes a good thing; it helps you get things done, makes you want to be successful, and signals you when actual danger is afoot. You wouldn’t be very happy (or maybe even survive!) without a certain level of anxiety. So make friends with your anxiety, learn how to take a step back and calm your nervous system so you can manage your anxiety, and go on your merry way.

And if, by chance, you should need to apologize for a situation when you didn’t manage to calm yourself enough, check out this article on how to apologize.


Therapy can be very helpful with learning how to manage your anxiety. Sometimes it only takes a session or two to learn the skills necessary to be more comfortable in anxiety-provoking situations. I offer a free 20 minute consultation on the phone or in person in my office, so give me a call at 323-999-1537, or send me an email at, and we will chat about your specific situation and how therapy can help you be your best self!