I thought about making this post’s title: How to de-escalate when your 5-year-old son has jammed your new vehicle’s cd player with business cards when you weren’t looking for a few seconds and then, after coming back into the house after trying to fish them out you see the same wonderful child spreading glue all over the floor… But I thought that might be a little long.
As I write these words I have just finished a conversation with my two children about how great a gift failure is. Every time we fail we are given the opportunity to learn something valuable. We are starting a custom around the dinner table a couple times a week called “How did you fail today?”. We each share and then give each other high-fives and celebrate failure. While I know this has value for my children long term, I sincerely hope they destroy less stuff around the house this week as well:) But back to my point for today’s post.
There are three well researched and proven ways to calm yourself when you find yourself reacting rather than responding in any situation in life. Only one of these really needs a lot of practice; the other two are extremely easy to perform. They work because we are mammals and because we are human (I’ll explain some other time. For now just trust me and try these out).
1. Start taking deep breaths into your belly. When you begin taking deep breaths it has a fascinating effect on your body and your brain. It slows the chemicals that we release in stressful situations and begins turning on chemicals that relax us. Try this next time you are feeling overwhelmed: breath in for at least 4 slow counts and then hold your breath for another 4 slow counts before releasing your breath. Repeat for 1-3 minutes and I promise you, if you have done so correctly, you will have calmed down a great deal. Another way to slow your breathing is to focus on the exact moment the breath stops entering your lungs and then, again, when your lungs stop breathing out. You will find that each breath goes a little longer.
2. Seek out safe, caring touch from another mammal. Our brains are wired in such a way that when we feel safe and close to another mammal we begin to calm down. This does not work if we don’t feel safe with the other mammal. Why do I keep using the word mammal? Because it doesn’t matter whether the safe touch is coming from a person or a dog/cat/horse/hamster or even llama. Our brain will respond in the same way…. All of a sudden it makes more sense that being with your pet growing up was such a safe and comforting experience, doesn’t it?
3. This one is a little more difficult at the beginning. It also pays the highest return for the time you put into it. Begin practicing mindfulness. That doesn’t necessarily mean meditation. Mindfulness is simply a way to pay attention to your senses in the present moment. I’ll write another post on this at some point in the near future. For the time being, you can do some research on your own. It’ll take a few weeks of daily practice to become good at this and even longer to become great. The payoff is that you will begin to have much more control over your responses to strongly emotional situations and you will also begin to know yourself much better.
In closing, know that if you want more control over your reactions to stress the key is not to fight your emotions, but rather to get to know them and yourself better. It is also more important to simply do what is needed in the present moment than to understand all the details.
Have a peaceful weekend.