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…
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.)
- 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?