Behavior in an emergency: Stay calm. You’re probably familiar with these warning signs from elevators, trains, and airplanes.
However, it is difficult to remain calm in particularly stressful situations. One of the reasons for this is that stress hormones put our bodies on alert. Acting calmly, speaking thoughtfully, and making good decisions — no chance!
In this article, you will learn how you can outsmart your biology and become a rock in the surf.
Why actually keep calm?
This question sounds a bit strange, but aren’t there also good reasons to be stressed and tense or even to go ballistic? There are.
Restlessness and tension serve to master situations in the best possible way or to defend ourselves. When something stresses us, for example, a deadline, we become restless and thus try harder.
If our partner criticizes us, we freak out because we feel attacked and it’s only natural to defend ourselves. If we are impatient with the children, there is probably excessive demand behind it and the restlessness is a valuable sign to create more space for ourselves and to get support.
Restlessness and tension are really important as warning signals. The question is how appropriate and supportive our reactions to them are and how we manage to consciously choose them.
I can’t help it!
The problem is: When we lose our inner calm, we react quite automatically and have the feeling that we can’t react any other way. As if from a random generator, an impulsive reaction comes out of us.
These automatic reactions often get us nowhere and afterward we usually feel guilty, exhausted, and frustrated.
“Between stimulus and reaction there is space.”- Viktor E. Frankl
No matter what is causing your anxiety, you always have a choice between all possible behaviors.
If the deadline is approaching, you can make a precise schedule instead of panicking about it. If your partner criticizes you, you can let him know that you feel attacked and ask him to speak to you differently. If the kids are stressing you out, you can take a deep breath, tell them you need a break, and call a trusted person who can support you.
The point is, instead of letting your emotions lead you astray, it’s possible to behave exactly as you want to. The following 3 steps can help you better keep your cool:
Step 1: Perceive
This first step is about noticing when you are about to lose your inner calm. You may notice this in your body, for example, when your heart beats faster, your breathing becomes shallower, you may feel hot or cold, or you may start to sweat.
It is also possible that a lot of thoughts run through your head or that you notice real chaos of emotions. You don’t quite know whether you are angry, sad, or afraid. Your experience is like a stormy sea. Allow all of this to happen without reacting to it.
Step 2: Breathe
If you observe yourself as you did in Step 1, you will now also notice the automatic reactions that you would like to display now. Screaming, fleeing, falling silent, crying, grumbling — it may be that some of these will turn out to be useful at second glance.
However, instead of immediately giving in to your first impulse, wait for at least 3 conscious breaths. By this short pause, you turn off the “automaton” and can react in the next step in a way that you really want and, above all, how it will ultimately bring you forward.
Step 3: React consciously
There are always several ways to react to something. When we keep calm, we usually mean not yelling, but speaking calmly, being patient and deliberate, and making conscious decisions that also help calm others.
Under stress and tension, this takes practice and sometimes several attempts. Exactly how you want to respond may not be immediately clear to you either.
If this is the case, give yourself more time to think about it. Say, for example, that you are very upset at the moment and would like to continue talking at a later time.
Does staying calm mean pretending?
Although we probably all wish we could remain calm, this wish is often accompanied by a concern that we will no longer be authentic or that we will suppress our feelings.
It is important that we allow the inner turmoil and tension and notice them (step 1). We don’t have to fight them or hide them. We can also say to others, for example, “I’m feeling really stressed right now,” instead of snapping at them.
So being able to remain calm has nothing to do with pretending or suppressing emotions; on the contrary, it is the ability to perceive one’s own feelings and deal with them.