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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

10 ways to calm down—as told by my nine-year-old self

In 2009, I wrote a 10-step list on ways to calm down during times of stress. I wanted to revisit each of the steps, reflecting on each one’s value and relevance as a college student. 

  1. Take 3 deep breaths. Obviously, deep breathing has positive effects on the body, lowering one’s heart rate and thus alleviating anxiety. However, breath has also served as a crucial theme of many activities I’ve participated in throughout my life, from cross country in middle school to fast-talking in debate during high school to singing choral anthems at Notre Dame. In all these activities, proper breathing represents the need to focus, to lose myself in the clomping of shoes on black pavement or the highlighted excerpts on my computer screen or the notes in my music binder. By taking time to breathe, I move into an ethereal state, unbounded by worries. 
  2. Count to 10 backward. Counting backwards draws me into the past. It compels me to remember where I’ve come from, all the people I’ve met, all the experiences I’ve had. The past is full of examples of stresses and failures. But is also full of examples of how I’ve avoided letting failures define my being, or even how I’ve improved myself in response to stressful moments. 
  3. Close your eyes and think of a great day. While I’ve had a relatively stress-free year, I’ve occasionally felt weighed down by the thoughts of the thesis I have to work on and the officer meeting I need to prepare for and the employment applications I need to complete reminding me that this is the last semester at a place where I’ve been welcomed and appreciated before moving on to the unknown. On days when I feel entrapped in whirlpools of thoughts like these, it helps to remember that there are days to look forward to, whether they be opportunities to hang out with friends or the knowledge that at one point, I will look back on the work I’ve completed this year and smile. 
  4. Hum a favorite song or tune. Music has always served as a meditative outlet through which I can block out external stresses. At Notre Dame, participating in the Liturgical Choir has exposed me to a plethora of soothing motets and chants that I can put on while I work on assignments. This not only buries my anxieties beneath the elation of polyphony, but it also gives me an opportunity to center my spirituality in whatever task I am completing. 
  5. Think of a funny thing. I need to laugh every day, at least a little. I need to hear my friends’ bizarre stories. I need to occasionally revisit YouTube videos I’ve already seen because I know they’ll make me laugh. I need to remember that every day needs a moment of shameless silliness, of unbridled joy. 
  6. Close your eyes for one minute. Sometimes I like to take time to remember that I am myself, regardless of whatever anyone or anything around me might say.
  7. Read a book, poem or skit. Although I’ve dealt with the occasional “Arts and Sweaters”-style of teasing, I’ve loved being an English major. Literature can take me from the mundane to the fantastical, or it can even turn the mundane into the fantastical. Through immersing myself in the characters of the books I read, I might even see my reflection in the pages, revealing new truths. 
  8. Draw a picture of your favorite toy. I still stim from time to time, needing a small “toy” or object to wave around, toss up and down or curl in my palm. A small sphere or a keychain becomes the focal point of my emotions, as if my moving it enables the object to absorb any feelings of negativity, allowing me to reach a state of peace. 
  9. Do a little dance (not at school!). While I may not dance at school, I believe there’s empowerment to be found in allowing yourself to move to an internal rhythm, directing your personal art, when people are often encouraged to keep their inner songs to themselves. 
  10. Eat a snack. Snacks give me energy, but meals give me spiritual sustenance. I cherish the chances to sit with friends over pancakes at South Dining Hall or with family over chips and salsa at our favorite hometown Tex-Mex restaurant. In a Ratatouille-esque fashion, I ponder each distinct taste while I learn more about those around me through easy, unpressured conversation.
Overall, I approve of my nine-year-old self’s list. Importantly, while I used to view these steps as purely reactive measures, things to do once I became stress, now I view them as proactive elements of a healthy, peaceful life. I hope my visit to the past has inspired you to reflect on how you can use your passions and interests to combat stress in your daily life. 

Jack Griffiths is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in English with a supplementary major in global affairs. His areas of interest include neurodivergence, migration and the intersections between faith and public policy. When he’s not writing, you can find him singing with the Liturgical Choir, walking around the lakes or playing Super Smash Bros with folks in his dorm. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.