Life can be messy, demanding and worrying, and most of us experience stress and anxiety on a regular basis. When dreadful things happen, we freeze up, lash out or simply panic. All too often, we make decisions from this state of stress, which leads to poor choices and emotionally charged reactions. Then, when cooler heads prevail, we find ourselves smacking our foreheads in disgust, asking, “Why did I say or do that?”
Staying calm under pressure is key to surviving turbulent times. Choosing to respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally will help you create a more intentional outcome. Intentional outcomes, which tend to be more positive, lead to lower stress, better relationships and higher productivity. In short, staying cool when you want to freak out will improve the overall quality of your life.
When the stakes are high, stress is plentiful and the pressure is on, here are five ways to keep calm:
- Stay present. Take a deep breath and think about your feet. Seriously. Think about your feet. Feel them on the floor and wiggle your toes. Then breathe deeply. Staying present in your body keeps you out of your head, which is a dangerous place to go when stress levels are high. Staying present simply means focusing on what’s happening in the moment rather than overreacting or speaking too soon. You are breathing, listening and letting the situation unfold. Thoughts, fears and worry may pop up, but let them come and go; then refocus your attention on what is happening in the moment. Pause before you speak, and affirm to yourself, “I’m cool and calm. I can handle this with grace.”
- Ask more questions. Asking questions does two things: First, it helps you understand the situation better. With deeper understanding, you’ll jump to fewer conclusions, tell yourself fewer false narratives and relieve anxiety. Second, asking questions allows you time to process what’s happening without saying something you might later regret. My favorite question is, “What do you mean, specifically? Tell me more.” When dealing with my internal emotions, I ask myself, “Why am I really feeling this way? How can I calm myself down?”
- Avoid the downward spiral. “What if XYZ happens? What will I do? Will I get in trouble? What if I’m fired? How will I survive? What will people think?” These downward spiral questions lead to panic if you let them consume you. Instead, call upon your past knowledge and experience, or that of others whom you admire and respect. Recall a past mistake that you handled with grace: What did you do? How did you respond? How can you take what you learned and use it here? Coming up blank? Think about a person you admire: What would she do and say? How would she influence the outcome? How can you emulate her calmness? Calling on past experiences helps you see a different solution and keeps you out of the downward spiral.
- Change negative language to positive. Stressful situations cause us to use negative language to describe what’s happening: “I can’t do this. It’s going to fail. I’ll never overcome this.” As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Instead, acknowledge the difficulty of your situation and affirm how you are going to get through it: “This is stressful, but I will figure it out.” “If I stay calm and think clearly, I will come up with a great solution.” “I am angry and hurt, but I know I can overcome this.”
- Take a cooldown period. When you find yourself wanting to send an angry email or text or yell at the person in front of you, stop. Give yourself a cooldown period. Take a walk and see how you feel a few hours later. I find that if I wait 24 hours, my responses are less emotional and more thoughtful. I tend to create better outcomes, build healthier relationships, and judge myself and others less. I am not advocating for ignoring conflict; I am simply suggesting that a cooldown period can create clarity so when you do address it, you communicate effectively and resolve issues productively.
Pressure and stress are a part of life; the secret to moving past them with grace and gratitude is to stay cool, calm and collected.