Staying calm during stressful times is a skill we all need. Stress is all around us. We have family stress, work stress, the stress in traffic and stress from waiting in line at the department of motor vehicles. If you’d like help keeping your cool when the going gets tough, here’s our list of 14 ways to stay calm during stressful situations.
During high-stress situations, it’s common to find yourself with a clenched jaw, tight shoulders, defeated posture and stiffness all over. If your office environment is prone to chaos and tension, write the word “unclench” on a sticky note and post it on your computer screen or whiteboard. This is a reminder to unclench your body. Each time you glance at the word, consciously go through your body from head to toe and loosen it up. Relax your eyebrows, mouth, neck, and shoulders. Then, adjust your posture and release any other muscles that are tightened. This unclenching practice will help you to slow your roll and likely your heart rate as well.
Set a timer on your phone to alert you every hour or so. When you hear the chime, take five deeper, slower breaths. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to breathe deeply. Taking deep breathing breaks will not interrupt your day at all. However, it will help you get more oxygen to all of your organs and become calmer.
3. Break It Down
Do you have a colossal project you’re facing or a giant fire to put out? Don’t face it head-on entirely. Instead, take a few minutes to divide the task into smaller parts.
Here’s a real-world example: John has a rental property. He had to evict his tenants for not paying rent. John enters the rental house after the eviction to find that all of his appliances are missing, the carpet is destroyed, major damage has been done to the walls and doors, and the overhead garage door isn’t working at all.
In the above situation, John is facing the monstrous task of entire home rehabilitation. He needs to get the house back on the rental market as soon as possible to continue paying the mortgage on the property.
Rather than face this as one big overwhelming job, John can remain calm under stress by breaking it down into three smaller tasks. Task number one is to call his best handyman who is capable of repairing drywall, doors, and flooring. Task number two is to make an appointment with the overhead door company to repair or replace the garage door. Task number three would be to get in touch with the used appliance dealer and make an offer on replacement units.
When this gigantic project is broken down into smaller, more manageable jobs, it isn’t as daunting and is less stressful. John can get to work on the smaller jobs and complete them one after another.
4. Don’t Let Anger Control You
Licensed clinical social worker Buck Black says, “If you are prone to anger, then stress will likely increase your angry behaviors.” Acting out in anger never helps calm a stressful situation. It never solves problems, improves relationships or makes you feel better about yourself. If you’ve ever watched a street fight or listened to two people arguing, the person who let’s anger overtake him or she is the one who usually loses the fight or argument.
When you feel yourself begin to let your anger take over, Ph.D. Allan Schwartz recommends practicing the “fly on the wall” technique. Schwartz says, “By distancing one’s self from an explosive situation, by watching the events as though watching a movie, angry and aggressive thoughts are reduced. On the other hand, by immersing one’s self in the incident and reliving the situation, angry and aggressive thoughts increase.”
When you’re in a situation and your blood starts to boil, pretend you’re a bystander and view the situation from above. You’ll be more likely to keep your cool and remain calm rather than fly off the handle in rage.
5. Practice Your Patience
This may not help you in the middle of a stressful situation, but it will help you to prepare for stressors. Anytime you have the opportunity, put yourself in a situation where you have to be patient. Pick the longest line at the grocery store on purpose, stay in the slow lane all the way home from work or sign up to read stories to preschoolers. Use these small, sometimes annoying or tedious opportunities to train your brain into being patient and calmer. It works and will pay off when you face your next stressful situation.
6. Change Your Focus
When you keep your mind focused on the difficulties of a stressful situation, you’ll feel stress more intensely. The stress can feel like it’s bigger than you can handle. To avoid this overwhelming feeling, shift your focus. Spend a few moments looking at a photo of your kids, open the blinds and let some sunshine in or read a comic strip. Changing your focal point for a short amount of time will help you realize that there’s so much more to your life than this stress ― and that you can handle it.
7. Work Out
Intense exercise a few times a week will help your body and mind deal with stress. The Mayo Clinic reports, “After a fast-paced game of racquetball or several laps in the pool, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements. As you begin to shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.”
Particularly in times of increased stress, make time for exercise. If all you can do is get up and take a walk first thing in the morning, do it. Even a small workout is better than none and can help you stay calm amid the chaos.
8. Eat Well
It may feel like a trip to the vending machine and a sugary snack will give you a nice pick-me-up and be helpful when you’re dealing with life’s daily stresses. Sadly, the sugar rush is short-lived and followed by a crash. A soda or handful of candy-coated chocolates will leave your nerves shot and your patience low. Opt for some trail mix, a serving of cut vegetables or cheese and crackers when you need a snack to keep you going. It’ll serve you better and help you stay unruffled.
9. Quit Caffeine
In a stressful situation, would it help you cope if you were feeling annoyed, nervous, restless, anxious or nauseous? Of course not. However, some of the common side effects of too much caffeine are irritability, restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, and nausea. Consider giving up caffeine entirely if you want to stay as cool as a cucumber during high-stress situations. If you can’t bear the thought of entirely quitting all forms of the stimulant, limit yourself to a reasonable amount so that you can maintain your calm.
10. Talk With a Friend
Once I was having a stressful day at work. At lunch, I usually ate in the breakroom. That day, I just had to leave for a bit, so I drove to a nearby strip mall. I pulled into the parking lot to see one of my closest friends and her sister leaving one of the shops. It was like all my stress was lifted when I got out of my car and told her about the stressful workday I was having. She and her sister just listened and sympathized with me. Soon my lunch break was over, and I had to return to work. I went back lighter than I had left and with a renewed sense of calm.
When you’re in any kind of intense or stressful position, take 10 minutes to send a text to a good friend, your mom, spouse or co-worker. They’ll likely reply with a message that will help you feel more peaceful. If texting isn’t your style, make a quick phone call to someone you love. Just hearing the voice of a friend will improve your mood and help bring you back to calm.
When you’re in the middle of a stressful time, find a pen and a notebook and start to write. Making a list of your stresses, irritations and worries will help you see them with a bit more objectivity. I’m not a routine journal keeper, but when I feel especially backed into a corner or irritated to the point that I feel like I could bust, I pull out some paper and start writing. Once I get it all out on paper and read it back, some of the problems seem smaller. Writing is a good practice to help you calm down amid high stress.
12. Step Away
There are times during stressful situations when the best thing you can do is step away for a few minutes and regroup. When tension is high and things are getting hairy, leave the immediate area. You might take a walk around the building, offer to run out and pick up some snacks for everyone or go to another room and give yourself a pep talk.
Stepping away from a tense room or a heated argument can help you get centered and feel more in control.
13. Is It About You?
Often, we feel more stress when we take things personally. We’re cut off in traffic and, right away, we assume the other driver is cutting us off intentionally. We take it personally. Sure, there could be some driver on the road that’s out to get you and make your commute horrible. But that’s rarely the case.
In every situation with others that seems stressful, stop and ask yourself if what you’re worked up about is even about you. Chances are, it isn’t. Looking at things more objectively will help you to remain calm even when daggers are flying in your direction.
14. How Would So-and-So Handle This?
Do you have a friend or associate who routinely handles unsettling circumstances with grace and calmness? Let’s say you do, and his name is Phil. When things start to get crazy in your life, ask yourself, “How would Phil handle this?” Imagine Phil is presented with the same issues and consider what he would do. Then act like Phil. You’ll be able to stay calm and cool under pressure by following the example of your level-headed pal.
There’s no escaping the general daily stress of life on Earth. However, you can remain calm amid all sorts of stressful situations. Bookmark this article to read when circumstances threaten to make you feel unstrung. These tips will help you stay as calm as a placid lake on a summer day.
Black, B. (n.d.). The link between anger and stress. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/the-link-between-anger-and-stress/
Caffeine. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono -979/caffeine
Exercise and stress: get moving to manage stress. (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
Schwartz A. (n.d.). Provocation, anger and reaction. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/provocation-anger-and-reaction/