Since ancient times, our brains have been wired to let us know when we’re in danger. It’s a system that’s kept us alive for generations, telling our bodies when to be vigilant and poised for defense. Only now, instead of a wooly mammoth about to attack us, it’s an unseen virus—among other things—that keeps us on red alert.
Such constant vigilance is exhausting. Our cell phones beep with new messages all through the night. We have instant communications and instant expectations, keeping us in a state of high awareness to threats. And every time we put on a mask or sanitize our hands, we’re reminded that an invisible enemy is constantly in our midst. Our nervous systems are frazzled. We need calm, now, more than ever.
Calm is essential to release us from a state of defensiveness so we can deploy our resources to repair and recover. Only when we’re calm can we truly engage in creative, positive development which is so essential to our well-being. Happily, there are a number of approaches to quelling distress that can restore us to a place where we can focus and move forward.
Here are a few ideas:
- Good old reliable deep breathing. It’s a technique that is effective in reining in the nerve signals that tell your brain to be on the lookout. Practice breathing with intention, counting your breaths, noticing how many beats you breathe in and how many you breathe out. When you focus on deep breathing, you can restore your body to calm in a relatively short amount of time.
- Don’t press the panic button. If you’re anxious, your brain is susceptible to jumping to conclusions. You imagine the worst, when the worst is highly unlikely. Don’t allow yourself to buy into the worst-case scenario until you’ve had a chance to sort through the evidence. Tell yourself you can’t evaluate anything rationally if you are seized with panic. Then bring your focus calmly and surely to analyzing the problem.
- Learn when returns warrant. In other words, if you make a mistake, it’s a good idea to learn from it so you don’t repeat it. But it’s not a good idea to beat yourself up over something that, even if you do it again, won’t be too bad for you. It doesn’t make sense to stress over something that won’t affect you too much one way or another. Or to stress over a mistake that’s unlikely to happen again, or very often. Sometimes the stress over avoiding a repeat mistake is worse than the mistake itself.
- Recognize the detours. On your road to success, there will always be a few bumps and byways. Everyone has setbacks from time to time. When they happen, try not to see them as catastrophic failures, but rather, things that need to be worked out. Challenges that need to be met. And you will feel stressed and disappointed in the moment, but if you recognize temporary detours, you can have the confidence to go on to success.
- Vent judiciously. Replaying that disaster tape over and over in your head will not be particularly helpful and may even increase your anxiety rather than quell it. But you might find it beneficial to vent to a sympathetic person so you can hear yourself out loud and be validated by someone you trust to be supportive. Just being able to talk about an egregious event may be the tonic you need to move on. But be careful not to rehash too much because it isn’t productive. And you don’t want to burn out your sympathetic friend when you may need him to hear future problems.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact