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Staying Calm in the Midst of Stress and Chaos

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

Everybody, just stay calm! – Yeh. Right.

Knowing how to stay calm – especially now amid the chaos – is a skill we desperately need. However, whatever calm we have can deteriorate under stressful or distracting conditions. For example, singing Karaoke with a few close friends is relatively fun and easy. But add 5,000 spectators, a massive sound system and some TV cameras, and see how well you do. That’s a metaphor for our lives right now!

Imagine being calm and peaceful at all times. How would your life change? A greater ability to befriend and navigate our emotions alters our experience. We are in control of how we respond.

Follow these suggestions and keep calm under pressure:

  1. Start your day being calm and make every effort to stay that way. I used to wake up with a full head of steam, immediately checking my emails on my phone and operating at an amplified pace – all before my feet hit the floor. What I know now is that a calming morning ritual, performed religiously, will get your mind and body in the proper state. Then the only real task is staying that way throughout the day. Research shows that when we are calm, we are better able to focus, and are more productive. I will add that, for me, I also find I have greater inspiration, and am more attuned to serendipitous and fortuitous events.

  2. Monitor yourself. Continuously monitor your reactions to stressful events. How do you feel physically? What thoughts do you have? Do you use self-talk? Notice everything that has changed within you. This is not about shutting down your response, but rather about taking a detached observer’s view. If you are upset or anxious, simply note: I am upset. I am anxious. Simply noticing and naming your emotional state, without judgment of it, and without attaching to it, is an excellent way to begin to re-center yourself.

  3. Bring yourself back to your calm state. If your self-talk has become negative or overly dramatic, there is enormous power in “the pause.” While your emotions and thoughts rise up out of their own accord and from deeply help beliefs about yourself and the way the world is, they do not have to run your life. “The Pause” begins by physically removing yourself from the situation. Whatever has triggered you, whether it is the news, an email, an argument with a loved one, or a past due bill – turn it off, close it up, or set it aside and walk away. Create physical distance initially.

  4. Breathe deeply. If you are able to step outside, do so. Take long, measured, gentle breaths. It is proven to be physically breathing deeply and agitated or upset at the same time. Continue breathing deeply until you feel the shift from agitation into a state of calm has been solidly established. From this place of calm, remind yourself that whatever you are feeling about the situation is perfectly ok, but you do not have to react to it in the heat of the moment, or make a situation worse by your reaction.

  5. Remember that it’s not all about you. People do things for lots of reasons that don’t involve you. However, what chaotic and distressing situations do have to do with you is still significant. They show you very clearly what you are most afraid of, and where you have wounds that are ready to be healed. Even when the stress is coming from “society at large” there is opportunity to reflect on what you feel is wrong, and then look to yourself to see how you can establish and embody the behavior you feel is lacking. Your ability to flourish is independent of their thoughts, actions and personal attacks, and it always comes back to you.

  6. Build healthy centering habits. Too often we think of stress as something we must “cope” with. In fact, stress is unnatural and can be avoided in large part by building a routine focused on ease and simplicity. Right now too many of us shop, drink, binge on Netflix or eat when we’re stressed. That’s a good way to end up poor, drunk, mindless and overweight, all of which can add stress. Instead, develop some new habits that are good for you. Yoga, meditation, and exercise are just a few suggestions – and you can still enjoy a good Netflix series as well!

  7. Eliminate clutter from your environment. This includes all types of clutter, including excessive noise and other distractions. Noise – whether it is visual, audible, mental or physical – requires our mind to multitask. Again, like stress, multitasking is not a natural activity, and creates chronic, low-level stress. Turn off your social media and email notifications. Keep your living space and work areas clear of clutter. You’ll feel calmer and less stressed immediately.

  8. Get enough sleep. We live in a society where most of us have some level of chronic sleep deprivation. And we are generally rather proud of it, to our own detriment. It’s much easier to remain calm when you’ve had 7 hours of sleep rather than only 4. Sleep helps to reduce the stress in your mind and body. Being well-rested also allows you to handle stressful situations better. Even if you’re super busy, you’ll usually get more done if you maintain your normal sleep schedule.

  9. Become curious. Questions can determine our focus and influence our actions. All too often we assume we know all the answers, when we haven’t even bothered to ask. We even think we know another person’s motives when that is an impossibility. Asking questions helps shift our perspective, and allows us to see other choices we might otherwise have shut down. Here are some universally helpful questions: Is this really going to make a difference? Does it matter? Is the other person overreacting? Am I overreacting? Am I stressed about the past, present, or future? What can I do to turn this situation around? Is there an outcome that will make everyone happy (or at least satisfied) ?

Staying calm in challenging situations can be difficult at first, but it’s a learnable skill. Start with less stressful situations and test your ability to stay cool, calm, and collected. In time, what once would have sent you into orbit is just water off a duck’s back – or just a little Karaoke with friends..

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