Before You Lose Your Cool

Losing Self Control. When life is busy, we are more vulnerable to losing our cool.
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Fall is a busy time. School, activities and work tend to be in “full throttle” mode, and the holiday pressure is starting to build. When life is busy, we are more vulnerable to losing our cool, undermining both our productivity and our power. Fortunately, a complete loss of self-control is not inevitable. If you doubt this, imagine you are in the middle of an outburst and your boss, professor or pastor shows up at your door… odds are you will suddenly behave calmly, as if everything is fine.

When tempers are flaring, the first thing to do is acknowledge that stress is real. Sometimes it comes from situations over which we have no control, such as when a child refuses to get dressed with school starting in 5 minutes. Other times, the tension is self-inflicted, like when we procrastinate a task to the point that we no longer feel able to complete it. Regardless of the cause, stress results in a surge of hormones that impacts the way we feel and think. It isn’t simply “all in our heads.”

A second step is to avoid trying to fix the cause of the stress “in the moment.” For example, giving a lecture on timeliness and family responsibility is unlikely to make an uncooperative child move more quickly. Similarly, a descent into self-recrimination over bad work habits is more liable to result in despair than a sharpened focus. When the pressure builds, the best thing to do is to relieve it and get back on track. Analysis and remedy can come later.

How can we avert an explosion when we feel it building? Here are a few simple ideas…

  1. BREATHE DEEPLY: Inhaling deeply is good, but the true calming power comes from a deliberately slowed exhale. This doesn’t come naturally to us, requiring us to concentrate, which immediately shifts our focus off of the problem.
  2. SPEAK CALMING WORDS: These may be a prayer, a poem, a song lyric or a simple phrase. Pick something that feeds your sense of internal power, such as…

“Staying calm in chaos is victory.”

“Temporary glitches are not failures.”

“Ride it out.”

“This too shall pass.”

“Time to channel my inner superhero.”

  1. STRIKE A “POWER POSE”: Social psychologist Amy Chuddy described the boost of self confidence we experience when we assume a “power pose,” which includes standing tall, legs spread a bit, shoulders back, hands on hips and chest out. In Dr. Chuddy’s experiment, people who held this pose for 2 minutes experienced a 25% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. I’m not a scientist, but assuming a posture of control and power seems to be a way to “fake it ’til you make it.” (You can watch the complete Ted talk here.)
  2. VISUALIZE SOMETHING FUNNY: Humor is a well known stress reliever. When we laugh, we alleviate the intensity of the situation and regain perspective. Maybe you have a favorite cartoon, quote or comedic sketch that is always good for a smile. This is one of the reasons The Seana Method publishes the “Polly Tries” cartoon… we are all trying to stay calm and get everything done. Here is a video that makes me smile when I think of it:

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It is impossible to completely eliminate stressful situations, but a few strategic coping strategies may help avert a total meltdown.

What do you do when you feel ready to erupt?

34 thoughts on “Before You Lose Your Cool”

  1. Calming words definitely help me. When I find that I’m getting impatient, I say to myself: “This is the Universe’s way of teaching me patience.” Then, I take a few deep breaths. If things feel like they’re about to get out of control, then I clean!

    1. When I feel things are getting out of control, I organize – LOL! We are so funny. But even if you don’t have time, a phrase like yours can do wonders. I’m so amazed that body posture can actually impact our hormone levels!

    1. I heard a speaker once who shared that he had been in the power pose when they walked in. I think it might actually be a great example for your kids. If they ask what you are doing, you just say, “Regaining my self control.” Whatever works, right?

    1. I have the same tendency, Nina. I spent a lot of wasted time lecturing my toddlers… seems ridiculous in hindsight, but at the time I felt I was doing the right thing. Live and learn!

  2. OMG that was priceless, I needed a good laugh today, and that video was hysterical . I usually walk away and count to 10 when I am about to blow my top, something I perfected when my son was young. Breathing is another thing that is key, I am a breath holder so when people talking about breathing techniques I always take a deep breath. So thank you for the reminder and the deep breath!!
    Jill Robson recently posted…Would you like to be Christmas ready this year?My Profile

    1. When I do yoga the instructor is always reminding us to breath, which seems so obvious, but I often find I’m not! Just the words to inhale and exhale deeply make me do it, and it is incredibly calming!

  3. Thank you for relieving whatever stress I might have had with the Peter Kay video. Nothing quite as reviving as a good out loud laugh! All the suggestions you made about handling holiday or even every day stress are excellent.

    Laughing has always been a go to stress-reliever for me. But also giving myself a break and remembering to let up on myself helps. Stress can be external, but it can also come from the internal pressure we put on ourselves. I have to remind myself to let go and be kind to myself.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v8My Profile

    1. I’m trying to incorporate more laughter into my life as well as I tend to be a bit too “intense.” Just thinking of that video makes me smile, which sometimes gets me through:)

    1. Yes, that is exactly the time of day when things fall apart. Once, my daughter climbed up on an outside dinner table and fell off and sprained her wrist. At the pediatrician, I was explaining what happened and he said, “Yep, that would be exactly the time when she would try an amazing feat like that!” Happens to all of us. I’m excited about the power pose, though. As crazy as it looks, it actually does work!

  4. Thank you for this post Seana! Remembering to not try to fix in the moment, is a great tip to live by. I work with a lot of women who deal with stress everyday. When a problem comes up, which is almost daily, we have learned to acknowledge the problem, but wait to seek out solutions after everyone has had time to calm down. It has worked much better for us. I’m liking the power pose!
    Hope you are having a fantastic week! Tweeting to share!
    ~Laurie
    Laurie recently posted…Brag About It Link Party!!My Profile

    1. Thanks for sharing, Laurie! I’m loving the power pose as well — crazy how that can change how I feel. Looks a little silly, but…. I’m still learning to delay solving in the moment, but when I do, I’m always thankful because it works much better.

    1. I think it helps convince us that we will come out of the intense moment, over to the other side, which does calm us down. The flood of “in the moment” emotion can make us feel like this situation will never change, which is tough to cope with. Anyway, it is free and easy, so I’m trying it!

  5. Humor and movement, like a brisk walk help me not lose my cool. I can see the power pose you mentioned working well too. When I used to take yoga, the warrior pose, was a helpful stance for me.

  6. I don’t ever “loose my cool”. (Oh, well, maybe sometimes when talking to inept customer service reps.) All of my stress is self-inflicted. And you are so right that “self-recrimination over bad work habits is more liable to result in despair than a sharpened focus.” The way I regain my focus is usually to make a list. I have a Master To-Do List. This is more of a quick brain dump with 3 categories: TODAY, SOONER, and LATER. It could include things that are already on the Master List, in addition to new things. But maybe they need more planning, and I haven’t scheduled time for the planning yet and it’s on my mind. Getting things down on paper always clears my mind, relaxes me, and lets me focus on what’s important right now, which could be watching a funny video for a few minutes. 😉
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Have you seen Hazel Thornton’s Photo Clutter Flow Chart?My Profile

    1. Having a vague – but ill-defined – idea of things I need to do is stressful for me as well. I do best when everything is scheduled, even if I end up rescheduling it at some point. When I don’t write it down, I think I carry a low level of anxiety about possibly forgetting something important. Thanks so much for this insightful comment, Hazel!

    1. I always think it is funny when someone in my family is in “mid-rage” and their phone rings, and suddenly they pull it together. It definitely says something about our ability to summon self control when we believe it helps us:)

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