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Stress, of course, is an unavoidable part of all of our lives. We all face challenging and even chaotic situations from time to time – ranging from those tight work deadlines and worries about finances, to personal-life dramas and even acute medical emergencies.
It is at such stressful moments that our body’s “fight or flight mode” is often activated to help get us out of trouble. But when the thing that is triggering your stress isn’t coming under mortal threat from a wild animal or a car careering off the road, but instead the need to give a work presentation, you may find that you’re entering a “fight or flight” state too easily.
In such situations, you’re likely to appreciate knowing what you can do to remain calm, so that you can settle your nerves, think things through and more gently guide yourself through the tests that modern life brings you. So, here are some tips for doing exactly that.
Always have a ‘plan B’ – or several – ready
One key – but often underrated – tip for keeping yourself calm in stressful situations, is simply knowing that such stressful situations can and will happen, and preparing in advance accordingly.
That includes considering what could actually ‘go wrong’ in that aforementioned work presentation or similar situation, and asking yourself how you could handle that. You might decide, for instance, to prepare specifically for the kind of questions you’re likely to be asked after giving your presentation, so that you feel calmer and more confident.
In the words of former bomb disposal expert Andy Torbet, who has faced no shortage of genuinely potentially life-threatening situations in his lifetime: “When you go cave diving and a piece of equipment fails on you, you don’t save your life in that split second. You save your life in the years building up the skills and attitude to deal with the situations, the months spent planning your Plan Bs should something go wrong”.
Practise calming breathing exercises
Stressful and anxious situations tend to cause us to take quicker and shallower breaths. By contrast, taking longer and deeper breaths can help you to calm down. Choosing to breathe a certain way, then, enables you to regulate your emotions.
Using a breathing technique that calms you – such as breathing in, holding and then breathing out for up to twice as long as you spent breathing in – can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your body’s calming response.
Visualise yourself being calm
Presuming you’re practising breathing exercises like the above, your next step – after taking a few deep breaths – could be to close your eyes and picture yourself in a calm state. Imagining yourself looking and feeling relaxed, and working through the stressful situation in a calm, considered and focused way, will help you to make it a reality.
Challenge your thoughts
As we touched on above, it can be helpful to think of potential risks in a given situation so that you can devise solutions to them. However, another benefit of challenging yourself on what you fear, is that you might realise your fear isn’t very rational at all.
You might fear flying, for example, if you’ve never stepped aboard a plane before. If this describes you, it can be useful to remind yourself that millions of people fly safely on planes every day, and your “worst-case scenario” fear – the plane crashing – is overwhelmingly unlikely to happen.
Listen to your favourite music
Given that almost all of us probably have “that” song or album that never fails to instantly put us in a good mood, it probably shouldn’t be a great surprise that various studies have pointed to the potential benefits of music to both mental and physical wellbeing.
At stressful moments in your life, reaching for those headphones could give you a pleasant distraction that also frees you up to work through your emotions.
A lot of us wrongly see meditation as something slightly pretentious – perhaps conjuring up images of people sitting cross-legged in a circle for hours, chanting “om”. But simply taking a few minutes out of your day to sit quietly and focus on your breathing can be regarded as “meditation”, too.
Furthermore, it’s been suggested that meditation isn’t just potentially calming in the moment, but can actually change our brains over time. So, meditating on a regular basis could help you to better cope with stressful situations in the long run, too.
Go for a walk
The longstanding term, “walk off depression” isn’t entirely wrong – physical exercise can bring real benefits to mental wellbeing. It can help you to minimise your day-to-day stress and anxiety, while also assisting with other factors that may be adding to poor mental health, such as inadequate sleep.
So, the next time you’re feeling under pressure in the home or at work, going for a brisk walk could help. The fresh air, change of scenery and release of feel-good hormones that characterises outdoor exercise could make it easier for you to adopt a different perspective on your situation.
The above measures are not the only possible ways to restore calm during stressful moments, but they should nonetheless go a long way to helping you manage challenging situations so much more easily. The benefits, to your both physical and mental health, can be very real.
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