When I was just a little younger, I had great big goals and objectives and aspirations for every day of my life. These days, my biggest ambition is to get through each day with grace and peace of mind - to be unflappable and to move peacefully from one task to another with focused attention and a quiet, calm energy.
Simple right? Ok maybe not. However there are steps we can take to at least increase how often we remain calm. Why be calm? Heck, because it feels fantastic.
Here are twelve tips for keeping your cool and staying calm amid life's situations – both big and small.
- Strive to not catastrophize
It's easy to dramatize and make something a bigger deal than it is. When you are relating the problem to yourself, avoid the urge to magnify the negative. Strike the words always and whenever. You might feel like Stuart Smalley, but it can really help to re-frame the problem in your mind by saying things like "I can cope," "It's not that big a deal," and "I'm bigger than this."
- Think before you Share
Don't describe or blog or tweet about the problem. Don't talk it over with your friends right away; let it stew a little in your mind so you can settle down a little. Sometimes, well-meaning friends will sympathize too much, which may only add fuel to your fire and get you even more upset.
- Discover metaphors and visualizations that help you stay calm
Here's one that helps me: I try to imagine my problem as a knot. The more I panic and pull on the ends, the tighter the knot cinches. But, when I adopt a singular focus, a calm takes over and I can loosen one strand at a time.
It might also help if you can visualize yourself acting with patience and focus. Lower your voice and try to move as slowly as possible. Speak slowly and softly. Become the calm, unflappable person you see in your mind.
Here's another technique: Do you know anyone whom you would describe as unflappable? Try to think of what this person would do in your situation.
- Note your patterns of exasperation
Are there any specific situations that cause you to lose your cool? Look at specific patterns -- from time of day, to level of stress (or level of boredom), to blood sugar levels. Do you tend to lose it when it's too noisy – or too quiet? Knowing about your own patterns can go a long way in helping you keep your cool throughout the day.
- Realize that you can control your emotions
Reflect on times when you were able to successfully stay calm in a frustrating situation. Maybe it was a time when you wanted to yell at your spouse or your kids, but then the doorbell rang and you were able to instantly shift gears. Consider that you might be able to do this repeatedly, as long as you know your triggers – and some tips for keeping a calm mindset.
- Create a calm environment with peaceful rituals
If calm music soothes you, use it. If silence soothes you, use it. Maybe you'll play some soothing instrumental music or maybe you'll dim the lights and light some scented candles.
When you are coming home from work, give yourself a few moments to calm your mind before you go charging into an evening at home with your kids. Sit in the car for a few minutes and take some deep breaths. Kick off your shoes and sip a glass of water. Rituals can also be tremendously soothing during the transition periods of your day.
- Take care of the essentials
Make sure you are getting enough sleep and getting enough protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. I tend to lose my temper way more often if I'm low on blood sugar. But, get a little protein in me, and it's (relatively) smooth sailing.
Also make sure you are getting physical exercise. A daily workout can give you the physical release that can help you control your anxiety. If I'm feeling particularly stressed, I trade my half-hour run for a half hour of kickboxing. This helps.
Stay away from too much sugar and caffeine and stay hydrated. Drink a tall glass of water and see if you feel better, more calm and alert.
- Focus on the mind and spirit, too
Depending on your spiritual tradition, engage in a routine of meditation or prayer. Practice yoga - or just sit quietly for awhile. Developing peace of mind is a skill that will serve you well your whole life through. Take a meditation class, and learn techniques to help you get control over your monkey mind.
- Distract yourself
Instead of ruminating, find something fun, engaging, and constructive to do. Try to laugh (or laugh at yourself.) Watch a funny movie or read a blog that always make you laugh. When you lighten up, it's a lot easier to keep your cool.
- Take a day off
I always know I really need a day off when I fight like crazy to not take one. If I can force myself to take an entire day away from my work, I always come back more calm, assured, and filled with fresh ideas.
- Don't forget to breathe
When my kids were very small, we helped them to calm down by teaching them belly breathing, and it still works – for them and for me. Diaphragmatic breathing helps you alleviate your stress in the moment and it gives you a minute or two to calm down, often just long enough for you to assess the situation and help you regain your sense of control.
In a good belly breath, your belly will actually rise and fall. To practice, put your hand on your belly. Inhale through your nose and see if your hand rises as you breathe in. Hold the breath for a few counts and slowly breathe out.
- Reflect on quotes that can help you calm your mind
Here are a few that I find inspiring:
"You are the sky. Everything else – it's just the weather." Pema Chodron
"A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe." Wayne Dyer
"It is useless to force the rhythms of life. If I live with the anxiety to go fast, I will not live well. My addiction to speed will make me sick. The art of living is about learning how to give time to each and every thing. If I have sacrificed my life to speed, then that is impossible. Ultimately, slow means to take the time to reflect. It means to take the time to think. With calm, you arrive everywhere." Carlos Petrini (Founder of the Slow Food movement)
"One important reason to stay calm is that calm parents hear more. Low-key, accepting parents are the ones whose children keep talking." Mary Pipher
"Remain calm, serene, always in command of yourself. You will then find out how easy it is to get along." Paramahansa Yogananda