Ramping up to stay calm

It is essential to recognise that your calm presence can significantly influence the person who is overwhelmed. Your ability to remain composed can help de-escalate the situation and provide a stable environment for the person in distress.

Switching into a state of calm to help a dysregulated person involves a combination of quick, effective strategies and long-term practices that enhance your ability to manage stress and remain composed in challenging situations.

Often when we hear our loved ones in distress, we experience a sympathetic response and our own levels of stress, adrenaline, and heightened awareness raise.  This can be the exact opposite of how we need to be when helping someone regulate.  The concept of ramping up to stay calm reflects the need to override the automatic response to another person’s distress and to force us to remain calm and be present.

A range of approaches to achieving a state of calm quickly and effectively are outlined below.  Not all of them will work for everyone and it is important to find the approach that works for you.  Strategies include:

Immediate Strategies to Achieve Calm

Deep Breathing

Technique: Use the 4-7-8 breathing method: inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat several times.

Effect: This helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body.

Grounding Techniques

Technique: Engage your senses by focusing on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Effect: This can help bring your focus to the present moment and reduce anxiety.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Technique: Tense each muscle group for a few seconds, then slowly release. Start from your toes and work up to your head.

Effect: This helps release physical tension and promotes relaxation.


Technique: Close your eyes and visualize a peaceful scene, such as a beach or a forest. Imagine the sights, sounds, and smells in detail.

Effect: Visualization can help shift your mind away from stress and induce a sense of calm.

Positive Affirmations

Technique: Silently repeat calming affirmations like, “I am calm and in control,” or “I can handle this situation.”

Effect: This can help reframe your mindset and reduce stress.

Long-Term Practices to Enhance Calmness

Mindfulness and Meditation

Practice: Engage in daily mindfulness or meditation practices to increase your overall sense of calm and improve emotional regulation.

Effect: Regular practice helps build resilience and reduces baseline anxiety levels.

Regular Exercise

Practice: Incorporate physical activity into your routine, such as walking, yoga, or any form of exercise you enjoy.

Effect: Exercise releases endorphins, which help reduce stress and improve mood.

Adequate Sleep

Practice: Often easier said than done but ensuring you get enough quality sleep each night is important.

Effect: Proper rest is crucial for maintaining emotional balance and reducing stress.

Healthy Diet

Practice: Eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods and stay hydrated.

Effect: Proper nutrition supports overall physical and mental health, making it easier to manage stress.

Continuous Learning

Practice: Autistic burnout is a state of intense physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion experienced by autistic individuals, often resulting from prolonged stress and the need to navigate a world that may not accommodate their needs. Someone who is in autistic burnout will require higher levels of support.  Educate yourself about emotional regulation techniques and understand the triggers and behaviours of dysregulated individuals.

Training and Workshops: Consider taking courses on autistic burnout, anxiety, stress management, emotional intelligence, or crisis intervention.

Effect: Knowledge and preparation can increase your confidence and ability to stay calm.

Implementing Calmness in the Moment

Assess the Situation

Approach: Quickly assess the situation to understand the level of dysregulation and immediate needs.

Action: Stay observant without reacting impulsively.

Create a Calm Environment

Approach: Minimise noise and distractions. Use a calm, soothing tone of voice or just sit quietly and be present rather than speaking.

Action: Your calm presence can have a grounding effect on the dysregulated person.

Engage in Active Listening

Approach: Listen attentively without interrupting. Validate their feelings and show empathy.

Action: Reflecting back what you hear can help the person feel understood and reduce their stress.

Use Non-Verbal Cues

Approach: Maintain open body language and make gentle eye contact.

Action: Non-verbal communication can convey calmness and support.

Offer Simple Choices

Approach: Provide clear, simple choices to help the person feel a sense of control.

Action: Choices can be calming and help redirect focus.

Encourage Slow Breathing

Approach: Gently guide the person to take deep breaths.

Action: Mirror the breathing technique yourself to demonstrate.

Use declarative language

Approach: If you can talk to them adopt declarative and supportive language and rephrase things to talk about an object rather than the person.

Action: avoid putting demands on the person who is dysregulated. 

Other things to consider

Post-Interaction Reflection: After helping someone, take time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Use this reflection to adjust your strategies and improve your ability to stay calm in future situations.

Emergency Contacts: Know who to call or what to do if the situation escalates beyond your ability to manage it calmly.

Step-by-Step Approach: Develop a simple, step-by-step approach to handling stressful situations. Knowing what steps to take can reduce anxiety and help you stay focused.


By combining these immediate strategies and long-term practices, you can learn to effectively switch into a state of calm and provide the necessary support to help a dysregulated person regain their composure. Your calm demeanour can significantly impact their ability to self-regulate and find a sense of stability.

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