Here we are again. It has been a fair few months since I have posted but it has been a must needed break. I have decided that I want to tackle the issue of stress and understand how it affects us in daily life. How do we make this more manageable? How do we get through the day without the overwhelming emotion? Sometimes it isn’t as easy as just removing yourself from the situation. When your work life is busy, customers may be yelling at you, the kids may be having a tantrum, but you can’t just walk away.
In those situations, the natural physical and emotional response is an exponential increase of the stress reaction. Unfortunately, that is the opposite of what’s good for us in the moment. So what do we do in the middle of a stressful situation to try and keep ourselves even tempered and effective? Luckily, there are some tried and true, scientifically proven techniques that can help during those intense situations:
- Breathe slowly and deliberately
Our minds, bodies, and emotions are intertwined and constantly influence each other. Taking control of those interconnected systems can allow us to better regulate our reactions to difficult situations. The natural physical response to stress and anxiety is to breathe fast and shallowly. At the same time, our natural response to breathing fast and shallowly is to feel more stressed. See the problem? Physiologically, rapid breathing is intended to give us a burst of energy and allow us to push ourselves in a dangerous situation. However, when we aren’t reacting to physical danger, it just makes us feel sick, because of the flood of fight or flight chemicals our body is producing, but not actually using. If you don’t watch your breathing, you get caught in a negative cycle. You’re anxious so you breathe fast, you breathe fast so you’re anxious, and so on. Slow, deliberate breathing decreases the physical stress triggers and also helps you stay mentally and emotionally centred. Completely fill your lower lungs, causing your stomach to expand, and release all the air before exhaling again. It sounds simple, because it sort of is, but the benefits are incredible.
2. Focus on waiting it out
Remember that whatever is going on at the moment, it will end. The same way we push ourselves to physically endure the last quarter mile of a long run, we can mentally focus on a situational finish line. Looking forward helps us to feel more calm and collected when our current circumstances are less than ideal. This is especially important if you’re dealing with someone who’s pushing negativity at you, because usually taking immediate action only prolongs the interaction. If someone is highly emotional, trying to respond is not going to make the situation go away. Neuroscience has found that the more engaged the emotional part of our brain is, the less we are actually capable of thinking logically. Odds are that the person that is yelling, ranting, or having a meltdown is not going to respond to rationality until their emotions have run their course. It can be incredibly hard to let that happen, because our instinct is to try and defuse the situation, and we want to protect ourselves from our own emotional onslaught. However, waiting it out is almost always better in the long run…which means you need to try and keep your cool in the meantime.
3. Think about resolution
If your workload is busy, think about the action steps. If a customer is yelling at you, let them vent while you consider what you can do to resolve the issue. If your child is throwing a tantrum, focus your mind on the things you need to discuss when he or she calms down. If you are stressed because a lot of things are happening at once, do a mental triage, instead of feelings like, “I must immediately answer this phone call, read this email, sign this report and talk to the person in front of me”. Assess the situation and try to discover whether there is a resolution of which you can control.
4. Emotionally disengage
When stress gets overwhelming, sometimes you have to be able to emotionally pull back from the situation. Even if you can’t physically step away, you can create some mental distance to lessen the emotional impact. This involves focusing a small part of your attention on a logical mental task, without ignoring the situation in front of you. For example, you can mentally count odd numbers, or recite the alphabet backwards. This forces the logical part of the brain to engage, and just like the more emotional you feel the less logical you become, the more you think logically the better you can control your emotions. You’ll still be present and participating, but you will feel more in control and less emotionally invested in the situation, leaving you free to pursue a resolution.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read!
Lots of love to you all xoxo