Fortunately, there’s an easy way to tell the body that it can stand down from red alert, and that’s by breathing slowly and deeply. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever tried to do this in a stressful situation, you’ll know that it can be a serious challenge to bring your breathing under control. What you can do is have a practiced method ready when the time comes. If you’ve already taken the time to learn a simple breathing exercise it becomes much easier to put into practice when under pressure.
One of the simplest ways of breathing your way through a stress reaction is to begin by counting to three as you breathe in, then let the breath out to the count of 5. When you begin to breathe in again, start the count - 3 in, 5 out. The trick here is to wait until you feel the urge to breathe in again before starting the in count, to ensure you’re not forcing the breath. After a while you should find you can take a breath in that takes 5 seconds, with a long, slow, 8 seconds back out. It takes some practice, but can be really helpful in taking a step back when your stress response is insisting on physical action. Simply paying attention to the breath is also a very useful grounding exercise to help you focus on what’s relevant and useful when your mind is racing.
It helps to practice this regularly. If you brain has already come to associate the slow 3 - 5 count with being calm and focused, it will react to the technique more readily when practiced in a stressful situation. It’s also good practice to check in with your breath every so often regardless of whether you feel the need to. Stress isn’t always obvious or intense, and life can be so frantic that a constant low level of stress becomes the norm for the body.
Stop. And breathe.