Simple tips to stay calm and cool in the most anxiety-provoking situations
Stress, whether you like it or not, is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences it, and unfortunately it can sometimes reveal itself at the most inopportune times. But do you notice that certain day-to-day activities feel more stressful than they should? Are you getting worked up waiting in line at the grocery store? Do you start feeling anxious as the battery life on your cell phone begins to drain?
“The reaction people have to stress is programmed into our wiring and is designed to protect us,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author of BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days. “The problem is that we search for solutions by creating different scenarios in our minds, which only reinforces the stress and anxiety.” The key, Alpert says, is to focus on solutions. Read on for expert suggestions that will lead to a greater sense of calm.
Scenario 1: Leaving the house late in the morning.br>You set your alarm with ample time to get ready for work. Some mornings you even give yourself hours, yet you're still always running late. There’s always just one more thing to do really quick, which keeps you from getting out the door.
Solution: Allotting too much time to get ready in the morning provides a lot of opportunity to get sidetracked, and our thoughts can begin racing ahead of our bodies. “Less time may allow you to be more focused and prioritize,” says Alpert. “Make a list or determination of what has to be done in the morning and what can be done later, and stick to it.” (Give yourself enough time for the things you need to do, though—don’t under shoot it!) Keep the television and computer turned off and your cell phone out of reach until it’s time to leave.
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Scenario 2: Being stuck in line.
You're in the checkout line and the person ahead of you is making a return that is taking what seems like forever. As they make chitchat with the cashier you begin to feel impatient and irritable, and suddenly can't stand still.
Solution: When things happen at a slower rate than expected, it can cause individuals to feel stressed and rushed. You may also feel trapped and out of control, which may remind you of other times you felt this way, says Denise Tordella, M.A., licensed professional counselor specializing in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, and addiction. “Take a deep breath, feel your feet on the ground beneath you, and focus on what you notice around you,” says Tordella. “Remind yourself that the people in front of you are not trying to make you late, they are enjoying a moment of connection.” Breathing and focus can help you get rid of tension.
Scenario 3: Your cell phone battery is dying.
You’ve been on your cell phone all day and the juice is quickly draining. You don’t have your charger on you, and there’s no way it will make it much longer.
Solution: Cell phones provide a feeling of security to some people, but are a lifeline to others. “Step back and ask yourself, ‘Suppose the battery does die, what’s the worst thing that could happen?’” says Alpert. The key is to plan ahead and be resourceful. Write down a number you may need before your phone shuts off and borrow someone else’s mobile if you need to make a call. Remember that there was a time when cell phones didn’t exist and people functioned just fine without them. Remind yourself that it will only be a short time until you are able to charge it up again.
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Scenario 4: The meal you wanted to order is sold out.
You’ve been waiting and thinking about eating this meal all day. If you’re limited by allergies or dietary restrictions, this can feel even more disappointing and stressful—especially when you’re hungry.
Solution: Notice the part of you that feels disappointed and acknowledge it. Then try shifting your focus. “The meal would have been good, yes, but see this as an opportunity to discover other good meals,” says Alpert. Be adventurous in your dining and if you have any dietary restrictions, always have a Plan B. Recognize that you have the power to perpetuate your disappointment, says Tordella, and take a step towards changing the way you feel. Choose another meal and ask the waiter about making alterations to it so that it’s still diet-friendly.
Scenario 5: Running behind schedule when meeting someone.
You’ve known about these plans all day, maybe even all month, and still, somehow you never seem to have enough time. The few times that you are ready, you become antsy waiting around and start doing other things.
Solution: Time seems to get away from you because you lose your focus on what you're supposed to be doing. Stop watching the television or sending out emails right up to the minute you’re supposed to go. Instead, direct your awareness on the here and now, suggests Tordella. “Ask yourself, ‘What is the next thing I need to do to get ready,’ and ‘How am I going to do it,’” she says. If you happen to be ready early and begin feeling anxious waiting around, try taking some deep breaths, repeating an affirmation, or listening to some calm music.
Scenario 6: Tossing and turning all night.
You keep tossing and turning and it’s beginning to make you mad. You know you’ll get even less sleep now and despite the fact that your body feels tired, your mind just won’t shut off.
Solution: Close your eyes and image yourself in a peaceful place, like the beach or a snow-covered mountain, Tordella suggests. “As you lie in your bed, feeling your weight against the bed, hear the sounds from that place and feel the air on your skin. Continue breathing deeply from your diaphragm and extend the length of your exhale as you release any tension you may be holding,” she says. If you still have not fallen asleep in 20 minutes, get up and trying making a cup of decaffeinated tea or a small sleep-promoting snack. It may also help to write down your thoughts on paper or in a journal if you have one. “If you return to bed and the thoughts persist, remind yourself they are written down and imagine them floating away as you bring your awareness back to your breathing.”
To learn more techniques for coping with stressful situations, Tordella recommends the book The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity by Kate Hanley.