We all have those moments when we feel out of control in a situation.
We’ve probably had a few more of those than usual this past year because this pandemic period has tested us in entirely new ways, and more likely than not, we can all recount a recent example of losing our cool.
The point is, we all get activated, and we can’t necessarily control the flood of emotion that overcomes us. What we can control is our response to it.
Calming down is an exercise in patience and self-compassion. It is a skill we can perfect over time by understanding what’s going on in our brains when we feel overwhelmed and by taking action to help ourselves get the higher functions of our brain back online.
When a person loses their cool, their emotions are firing out of control. It may even feel as if they’re in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. They’ve lost connection to their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that typically helps them stay emotionally flexible, balanced, and regulated.
Making ourselves aware of what’s going on in our brains can help us hit the brakes and calm down, rather than reacting in ways that hurt us or we later regret. Let’s take a look at some methods to calm yourselves next time you are on the verge of losing your cool:
The breathing practice of 4-7-8 is one very simple exercise we can try. The idea is to breathe in through our nose for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds, and breath out through our mouths for eight seconds. Doing this five times in a row helps calm the nervous system as it is rhythmic and repetitive.
Take a short walk
Exercise can be a great stress reliever because it helps you blow off steam and releases endorphins. Even if you have just 5 or 10 minutes, moving your body for a bit will help. If you have more time or can take your walk outside, even better.
If you can steal away a few minutes of peace, visualizations and guided imagery are a wonderful way to restore peace of mind. They’re easy to do and can relax you mentally and physically. With practice, you can easily access your “happy place” and quickly feel calmer when stressed.
Reframe your situation
Sometimes we intensify our experience of stressful situations by the way we look at them. If you can look at your situation differently, you may be able to put it into a different perspective, like the one that causes you less stress.
Write it down
If you have just a few minutes, you could also benefit from journaling. A 2020 study found that journal writing seems to help reduce psychological distress. You can write about what’s causing you stress and get your emotions out on the page.
Drink some water
In addition to being thirsty, dehydration can also make you feel tired and dizzy. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, try drinking a glass of water. Brewing a stress-relieving cup of tea can also provide a much-needed break to step away from what’s making you stressed.
Have some gum nearby? Research shows that chewing gum may help reduce stress. If you haven’t tried chewing gum in stressful situations, keep a stash of your favorite flavor on hand to try next time and see if it helps.
Every wave of emotion rises and falls. If we can help guide ourselves through these instances of intensity, we can return to a calmer state. The trick is to give ourselves permission to pause. Remember that we can meet our uncomfortable emotions with patience, compassion and perspective.