Being Calm

It is not easy to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure. Stress is a normal part of modern life, but if you’re often faced with stressful situations and feel panicked or overwhelmed trying to deal with them, you may benefit from learning some coping strategies that can help you to stay calm. Nowadays, simply tuning in to the daily news is likely to be stressful. Add on the stresses of daily life — such as handling work demands or adjusting to retirement, dealing with family issues, coping with illness, or caregiving — and you may begin to greet each day with apprehension and worry. In other words, you can become anxious.

Pressure can put the body into “fight or flight” mode – an evolutionary tactic that releases hormones designed to get you ready to either fight or run from danger. In modern times, stress triggers these hormones but they’re not so helpful when the “danger” comes from giving a presentation at work rather than being faced with a wild animal. If you frequently find yourself feeling anxious, or panicked, your fight or flight mode is probably being triggered too easily and it’s helpful to learn how to calm yourself down when you’re entering this state.

Under Stress, We Regress

Many psychologists believe that we regress, or return to, behaviors we used in childhood when faced with an emotional threat. As a child, I would run away and hide in my room or just sit sullenly if things weren’t going my way. Today, my stress reaction is to “shut down” and to shut people out. And of course, if you were a child who threw tantrums—or objects—when things didn’t go your way, you may be a “screamer” under stress at work.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…

Rudyard Kipling

So how do successful people do it? How do they remain calm under pressure? How do they overcome the normal and natural reaction to regress, when under stress?

#1 They Take Care of Their Bodies
I remember a Snickers commercials that claims “you aren’t you when you’re hungry”. Our environment is the biggest variable when it comes to behavior, and our body is the immediate environment of our minds.

Successful people are intentional about when and what they eat. Your new mantra: Food is fuel! There is probably nothing more controversial in the health and fitness world than what and when to eat. High protein diets, vegan diets, intermittent fasting, so many options!

Successful people are also intentional about their sleep. In his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, Kevin Kruse interviewed 13 Olympic athletes and their number one secret was to get more sleep. Eight hours of sleep isn’t realistic for most of us, but instead of focusing on the quantity of sleep, you should focus on the quality of sleep (ie, maximizing time in deep sleep).

#2 They Exercise
Numerous studies have shown that exercise reduces stress, anxiety and even depression. This is because exercise increases the amount of feel-good hormones like serotonin, and reduces cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. If you like to exercise as much as I do, you are probably groaning at this recommendation. Thankfully, you don’t need to become an overnight gym rat to control your stress. You just need to move in a way that gets your heartbeat way up for twenty minutes a day. A fast walk around the neighborhood, a yoga session, or after work a basketball game would all be great. I felt the difference when I started making it a point to go for my morning walk/jog regularly.

#3 They Train Their Minds
Many of the most emotionally grounded people have strengthened their minds through meditation. If you’re unfamiliar with meditation, it is not about just sitting quietly or trying to channel some mystical energy of the universe. If you understand how lifting weights can make your muscles grow, meditation is the same thing—it literally grows your brain. One Harvard study showed that after eight weeks of meditation there was growth in the hippocampus (the area of the brain that regulates emotion) and a reduction in the brain cell volume in the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for anxiety and stress. The great news is that, unlike a physical workout at the gym, doing a meditation mental workout only takes a few minutes, can be done anywhere, and doesn’t require a change of clothes.

#4 They Are Grounded in Gratitude
Highly successful people have an attitude of gratitude. Negative emotion is easily washed away by positive feelings of gratitude. No matter how bad our situation is, if we pause, it’s usually very easy to see how much better off we are than others. Similar to meditation, having a solid gratitude practice literally changes our brains. Research done at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA shows that gratitude practices impact the brain at the neurochemical level, and acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and nor-epinephrine–all of which have a major impact anxiety and stress response.

One way to adopt a gratitude practice is to simply spend five minutes a day writing in a “gratitude journal”. Personally, as part of my morning ritual, I think of three things that I can feel grateful for. It only takes a minute, I can do it while still in bed or in the shower or even driving to work. The key is you have to pick things that you can actually feel grateful for.

#5 They Reframe With a Growth Mindset 
When we feel overwhelmed with too much to do, or angry at someone’s incompetence, or frustrated because our flight was canceled, or disappointed when we failed to close the deal, it is very easy to think: why is this happening to me?

Highly successful people reframe negative experiences into growth experiences. Instead of, “Why is this happening to me” they think “Why is this happening for me?”

#6 Surround yourself with positive people
You probably have a few people in your life who can make you feel stressed just by being around them. While it’s not always possible to cut these people out of your life entirely, when you’re under pressure try to spend more time with friends and family who are helpful, positive, and will lift you up rather than drag you down

Here is a lovely poem by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,  
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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