Have you ever flipped your lid? Overheated in a conversation? Felt like your face was on fire? These are pretty common responses to getting upset or angry. Humans have the wiring that will instantly engage our defenses against anything that feels like a threat. Luckily there are 6 tips to keep your cool in almost any situation.
10,000 years ago…
If we roll back time about 10,000 years, we would find ourselves in 8,000 BC. We are most likely roaming about the hinterlands in small bands of human beings. These ancestors had mastered using tools, they could use fire, they had art, and they had a developing culture. And yet, they were still outnumbered by all sorts of scary things that thought, “Humans taste like chicken.” The reason I am even mentioning this is that humans had to develop a very quick defensive response or arousal response in their brain, just to survive. They needed to be able to react quickly to the tiger sneaking up on them, they needed fast reflexes that got them running faster and up a tree in a second, or able to pick up a stick and run screaming at the tiger to scare him off. And, you’ve probably heard of the Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Freak Out response. People needed ways to survive in a dangerous world and the people who had quick arousal responses typically made it to parenthood and passed on their genes.
Fast forward 10,000 years. You and I live in a very different world. There are not many tigers stalking us, but the world is still filled with situations and people who can be dangerous. Who among us has had to swerve as their driving to avoid another car, or had to grab a child who is about to have a calamity? Speedy reflexive actions can be lifesavers. But, not all situations are truly life or death. The husband or wife who is annoying us might be seriously annoying, and still probably isn’t deadly. The whining child, spouse or co-worker probably won’t kill us, even if we would like to stick a sock in it. Still, given the right circumstances we may have a reaction to this person, or situation, that is bigger and more explosive than necessary. Most especially depending on how long we have held our stress in check, we could turn into a volcano and literally blow. Or, you could become your own superhero and do it differently. Wouldn’t you like to keep your cool if you can?
Here are 6 ways to Keep Your Cool.
1) Awareness. Become aware of the steps we are taking that are leading us to the blowout. No one really just explodes. If you rewind your last blowout, go back to before you were even annoyed. Start when you woke up. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and play it in Slo-Mo. Start to look for clues. Were you tired? Were you hungry? Had something happened prior that set your finger on the trigger? What was the first thing you noticed as the earliest sign that you were traveling down a road that was going to lead to no good?
It is only when we get radically curious that we can begin to look for the signs that tell us what was going on inside of us, and not just outside of us.
2) Meditation. Meditation isn’t just for monks, it also doesn’t have to take hours. Meditation can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for 2 minutes until you feel your body relax. There is no need to chant, though there isn’t anything wrong with that either. But, really it’s an intentional shift of focus from what is outside of you and stressful (external) towards your own experience of your body, or your breathing (internal). The more you practice this tool, the easier it is to do. Also the easier it is to access when you’re feeling stressed. I recommend those new to meditation, focus on your breathing every time you sit down for 1-2 minutes. You might end up meditating 10 times a day, for 1 or 2 minutes, this is still going to have a positive effect on your stress and build the skill in your toolbox.
When we pay attention to our breathing, we can slow it down. As we slow down our breath, becoming mindful of the flow of oxygen, in and out of our body, we can give our mind space to re-engage when it’s been hijacked.
3) Laugh. Laughter is the best medicine…both laughing and crying do a similar thing in your body, they pump the diaphragm and relax and tense muscles. On a physiological level, this action moves chemicals around the body, like stress chemicals, which help to flush them from your system. But, laughter offers other benefits too. Laughter is linked to a healthy immune system. When we are stressed, we make more blood platelets, which cause obstructions in our arteries. Laughter increases our natural killer cells which combat illnesses, we raise our Gamma-interferon, T-cells, and B-cells all of which help us to stay healthy even under stress. Also, researchers estimate that laughing 100 times is equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine… I know which I would choose.
Check out Laughter Yoga, it’s an international movement that might just crack you up. Maybe take 1 minute every 2 hours to laugh, nonstop, just laugh.
4) Challenge it. Someone once said, “don’t believe everything you think.” Well, it’s true. When we are afraid, stressed or angry, our brains will tell us all sorts of unusual and false things… Be careful what you mentally latch on to, in these moments. Depending on our personalities, we may overreact that we did something wrong, or conversely that everyone else is wrong. Either of these responses could be incorrect. The truth, whatever that grey area is, probably lies more in the middle, and either cursing yourself or cursing someone else probably isn’t going to help much. Plus, you may just be reacting to misinformation. Dr. Amen talks about asking yourself 2 questions. 1. Do I know this thought to be 100% true? 2. What do I know that challenges this thinking? These questions are great. You may find you are telling yourself the truth, but if your not, then you can stop before making the situation worse.
When we are out of our minds on anger, fear or stress, wait till you’ve cooled down to give your brain time to catch up. Then challenge your thinking to regain your center of balance.
5) Wait. Just Wait. Steven Covey, in the 7 Habits, talks about giving yourself the space and time between an event and your response to the event. Time will allow you to choose a different response. When our brains start freaking out, our cortisol and adrenaline increase, our reactivity goes up and our ability to think plummets. Have you ever had a reactive conversation with someone, said all sorts of crazy things that maybe didn’t even make sense, and an hour later thought to yourself… “I should have said…”? That’s because your brain on stress is stupid. It’s not meant to think about profound philosophical insights, thoughtful arguments, it’s supposed to keep your happy ass from being eaten by the tiger! One of my best strategies, and mind you I am a Red-headed, Irish, Leo… I know of what I speak, one of my personal best strategies is to… wait for it… keep my mouth closed, or conversely, don’t press the ‘send’ button. If at all possible, I wait to respond. I know that my brain is not acting in my best interest in the heat of the moment, so I shut my mouth and wait for my brain to catch up. It’s saved relationships on several occasions.
Words are difficult to take back, regardless of how much we want to, how much we apologize, how much we wish we could roll back time and have a “do over.” So, slow down and give yourself time to decide if what you want to say is also what needs to be said.
6) The Goal. What is your goal? In life, in this situation, in how you want to show up as a human being? What you are about to say, think or do, will it take you closer to your goal? Or will it take you farther away? This is an important question to consider. I might say it’s the most important question to contemplate in every tangle you find yourself in. Your goal may change in every circumstance, yet, it’s highly likely that in every situation you have a goal. If you want to relax and have fun, what is the purpose of getting pissy? If you have a boundary, you wish to have respected, what is the benefit of screaming at someone when they don’t? If you want people to understand your point of view, what is the point of shutting down and tuning them out?
In every situation, you have a goal. Your job is to determine what your goal is so that you can then chose the mindset, the action, and the delivery that will support you stepping one step closer to said goal.
When it comes to keeping your cool, these aren’t the only things that will help, but they are 6 first steps. Keep cool tools for your toolbox of life.
I would love to hear from YOU.
So let me know:
- Your favorite way to keep your cool?
- What would you like to know more about?
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Lyssa, Many thanks for this excellent post! You reminded me of what I know and had temporarily forgotten about breathing. You also gave me some new information on laughing that I will put to work today. Great way to begin the day with focused breathing and laughter!
Yay! A day without laughter is not nearly as wonderful. I am glad it resonated and reminded you of what you know. 🙂