Tear ducts. They’re not my friends. I don’t send them Christmas cards. I don’t invite them to parties. Still, unbidden and unwanted, tears have a tendency to well up in my eyes whenever I’m having a difficult conversation with someone. And, though it’s quite rare, I’ve been known to totally blow a gasket or two. Let’s face it, that red-faced, exploding-at-the-seams angry look isn’t exactly fashion forward.
Emotions are good things. They help steer our choices and, when worn on our sleeves, give others clues to how we’re feeling. But sometimes emotions—such as traitor tears, a red-hot temper, or panic-inducing anxiety—are a downright pain in the rear. When high emotions get in the way of your professionalism, prevent you from effectively communicating, or cause your mascara to create a raccoon effect, it’s time to take control.
Keeping Cool in the Heat of the Moment
As calm as we may try to keep our lives, there’s one thing that’s for sure. @#!& happens. Grocery clerks put bottles of orange juice on top of egg cartons. Speed-demon drivers cut you off on the highway. Checks bounce when your significant other forgets to write a withdrawal in the register. Bosses assign impossible late-night tasks. And it’s important to keep yourself together when everything falls apart. Here’s how:
- Take a breather. As simple as it sounds, take a few seconds to breathe. You can also try repeating a calming phrase (either out loud or in your mind). Sometimes a few seconds is all it takes to get a better rein on your emotions. You don’t have to swallow emotions away—just keep them in check so you’re controlling them and they aren’t controlling you.
- ITCH. When you want to scream and yell, instead ITCH. Can you just Ignore the situation at hand? If not, then Take control, Calm yourself, and Handle the situation properly.
- Change the scenery. If possible, remove yourself from the situation at hand, even if it’s only for a few minutes. If you’re in a stressful meeting at work that’s causing you to feel angry or anxious, excuse yourself to use the restroom. Then use those few minutes to regain control. If you’re having an argument with your spouse, tell him or her you need a minute and step outside for some fresh air. A little change of scenery can help you gain some perspective and recharge you so you can handle the situation calmly.
Calming Down After a Stressful Day
Sometimes stress doesn’t happen in one big event. Instead it can be a million little things that leave you feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. I know I’ve spent many a night lying in bed thinking (or should I say obsessing?) over every tiny, stressful detail of my day. Somehow little stressors seem to grow into King Kong-sized problems once your head hits the pillow. But you can take some proactive steps to prevent those sleepless nights:
- Exercise. Physical activity isn’t just for keeping you in your skinny jeans; it’s also a great stress reliever. Going for a jog (or walk or bike ride or whatever floats your boat) after work will give you time to sort through your thoughts while sweating out the stress. And—bonus—if you work out hard enough, you’ll also get a rush of endorphins, nature’s little feel-good hormones.
- Journal. Writing down the events of your day gives you a chance to think things through and gain some new perspective. But don’t let your journal become a stress in itself. You don’t have to write in it every day and your eighth grade English teacher isn’t going to check it for grammar and punctuation. Just pull out your paper and pen when you feel the need to release whatever you’re currently dealing with.
- Vent. Call a friend, your mom, a sister … whoever you trust to listen and not judge. Often you don’t even need the other person to offer suggestions, you just need someone to listen. Putting a voice to all of your stressors can help you put them aside so you can have a calm, restful night.
- Create a relaxing environment. Put on some music you enjoy, sip on chamomile tea, keep the lights dim, cuddle up under your favorite blanket (or next to your favorite person), light a lavender-scented candle, put on a good movie … whatever you find relaxing. Your environment can have a big impact on your emotions.
Finding a Little Zen
I don’t know if I believe that we are what we eat. (If that’s the case, I’m currently a bowl of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.) But I do believe we are what we live. When you practice calming habits on a regular basis, you can handle life’s speed bumps a little more smoothly. Some ideas:
- Yoga. Not only does yoga build strength and flexibility, it’s also good for the soul. Mind-body exercises like yoga help you connect your physical self with your emotional self. When practiced regularly, you’ll find yourself dealing with stressful situations in new—and calmer—ways.
- Hobbies. Have you ever thought of taking up painting? A brush on canvas can be remarkably soothing. Gardening, sewing, scrapbooking, or even rebuilding the engine of a car can have the same effect. Whatever hobby grabs your interest and redirects a busy mind can help you keep a calm demeanor.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Stress and upsetting events are an unavoidable part of life. The trick is preparing yourself to deal with stress, finding ways to calm down quickly when necessary, and releasing high emotions after hard days.