When the storm of life hits (or keeps hitting), peace is probably the last thing on your mind.
You become overwhelmed with anger, or pain, or sadness. Or all three.
Before you know what hit you, your heart is overworked, your blood pressure is through the roof, you haven’t slept well in…forever.
And that is human nature.
We are programmed to identify danger and react strongly for protection. When our brain identifies something that is harmful to us or those we love -physically or mentally – it sends a signal that activates the stress response in the central nervous system.
The laundry list of ways this impact our body is staggering.
So how do we overcome biology?
Is it even possible to avoid the stress response?
Yes, it absolutely can be when we learn to recognize it and how to calm ourselves. Peace can be restored in our lives and homes.
Learning to identify stressors
I was in a stepmom group the other day when a woman asked if she was overreacting because her step daughter’s birth mom put fake nails on their 9 year old girl.
My first response was, “duh, yes you are.”
But then I took a step back and thought about how that stepmom got to the point where fake nails were making her lose sleep.
I realized (because I have similar triggers) that it becomes almost a PTSD response to issues you’ve had in the past.
If you have been accused of neglecting your kids because someone thinks their clothes are too small, for example, you are going to react strongly when something disrupts your ability to have the correct size clothes available.
And this is JUST 1 EXAMPLE in the huge list of experiences that make up our worldview.
Part of my advice to her, by the way, was to realize that her response may be a ‘stress response’ to past circumstances and to not let fake nails steal her peace.
I don’t know if she’ll take this advice.
But wouldn’t it be amazing if we could reduce the amount of anxiety-inducing things in our life by identifying why they give us anxiety?
The next time you have a response to something that seems stronger than average, try figuring out where that feeling comes from.
Maybe your fear of hanging out with friends stems from your tendency to get migraines in loud environments?
Or the heart rate increase when you get a text is because you’ve received unpleasant texts in the past that still impact your life today?
Ways to stay calm
Obviously not every anxiety and stressor in our life comes from past experiences, though.
Sometimes your job is just hard.
Or your relationship is just stressful.
Or your health just sucks.
The following tips can be used in any situation. Whether it’s a conditioned or natural response, you can still keep hold of some peace if you try the following:
1. Breath Correctly
If you’ve never heard of it, diaphragmatic breathing is a game-changer. This is a particular method of breathing that has countless physical and mental health benefits. Even a few minutes a day or during crucial times can help to lessen the stress response.
Basically, practice breathing into your stomach instead of your chest. It works your diaphragm in a way that activates part of your nervous system that shuts down stress.
Imagine yourself blowing up a balloon. When you breath deeply in this way, your filling your stomach area instead of your chest.
You can also place your hand on your stomach (below your chest) and breath in while trying to move your hand outward.
Breath in this way 10-20 times until you feel calmer.
2. Break the situation down w/ a list
Anything can be overwhelming if you picture all the different bits and parts that make it stressful.
Next time your facing a stressful situation, try breaking it down into smaller pieces.
Make a list of the tasks or steps you need to take to ‘fix’ it or make it less overwhelming. Then just start at the beginning.
This also works if you’re overwhelmed with trying to do too much at once. If you have 12 things to do and only 60 minutes, prioritize and start with the first one.
At that point, you know you’re doing the best you can and everything else is out of your control.
3. Acknowledge your emtions
Burying emotions is just a bad idea. Nothing good comes of it.
Take a few minutes to figure out what and how you’re feeling. It’s okay to say “good grief I’m overwhelmed.”
It’s even okay to cry a bit.
But don’t let those emotions take over. Acknowledge them so you can move forward.
4. Look at the big picture
You might find, if you look at the big picture and what you want to accomplish, that the best thing you can do is move on.
Sometimes engaging will cause more harm than good. And something there is nothing that will be fixed or changed by worrying.
Sometimes being angry at someone doesn’t fix a relationship you want fixed.
Whatever the case is, make sure that you’re not going to waste time and energy on things that are undeserving or unfixable.
It’s also possible you’ll see a different solution if you step back than occurred to you when you were micro-focused on the issue.
5. Make smart ‘lifestyle’ choices
Drinking has almost never fixed stress. And things always look better after a good night sleep.
When you’re in the midst of your bad time, take care of yourself.
It may be easier to skip meals or stay up late or engage in risky behavior.
But more than likely that will burn you out and leave you with a bigger mess than you started with.
Take your vitamins, drink your water, eat your food groups, and get some sleep. You don’t want to end up sick on top of everything else!
Yes, not everyone reading this is a prayer. But I can tell you from personal experience that I find great stress relief in knowing I don’t have to go through my bad times alone.
God has always been faithful to me and my family. We just might not see it in the moment. But after we’ve come out the other side, it all makes sense.
Knowing you can ‘hand it over’ and trust that God has your back is the most comforting feeling in the world.
7. Lean on family and friends
This one is pretty self explanatory.
Hopefully everyone out there has SOMEONE they can lean on when times are rough.
Even just unburdening your heart on a listening ear will help calm you. Even better if they are a wise and trusted person who can give you spot-on advice!
If you don’t have someone who cares about you, email me! Seriously, I don’t want you to be alone. Amanda@thewindingwillows.com
8. Avoid ‘worst-case scenario’ thoughts
Life is very rarely the worst thing we can imagine.
Yes, sometimes the worst-case scenario turns out to be true. But overwhelmingly it turns out to be somewhere in the middle of terrible and perfect.
If it will make you feel better, take a second to imagine the worst thing that can happen in your situation. Figure out all the nuances.
But then be equitable. Take as much time to figure out what the best-case scenario is. Spend as much time picturing that as you do the worst-case.
Then remind yourself that you’re probably going to land somewhere in the middle.
9. Seek out relaxation
Take time to relax in the midst of your struggles. Take a bath, practice your art, read a book, get a massage, etc.
Even something as simple as sitting outside and listening to the sounds around you can be effective.
10. Try 5-4-3-2-1
This is an amazing calming technique that works in the ‘heat of the moment’, so to speak.
If you are feeling anxious or stress, identify:
- things you see around you
- things you can touch in that moment
- things you can hear
- things you can smell
- thing you taste
This simple exercise will help ground you into the moment.
As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.
If you are facing a tough situation, or living in one daily, there is literally no harm that will come from laughing.
And more than likely you can find something in every day that can make you laugh.
If you need help finding something to lighten your mood, try the totally FREE Laughter Journal that I give to anyone who signs up for my (completely non-spammy) newsletter. Signup below.
12. Make up your mind
I’ve saved this one for last, but I believe it is one of the most crucial things you can do when you’re struggling.
Make up your mind that you are going to survive this moment. If you have to, repeat the following sentences until you believe them
“I am going to survive.”
“This moment will pass.”
“I’m going to do the best I can.”
“I will not let this beat me.”
There are enough bad people and things in this world telling you that you aren’t going to make it. Stand up for yourself and don’t join the chorus telling you how bad things are.
Surviving Stress and Keeping PEace
It might not seem possible on the moment.
Every cell of your body may tell you that you cannot be at peace.
But you don’t have to listen. You can follow specific steps to rise about chaos and stay calm when things are not going well.
If you’ve skipped to the end and want the ‘quick summary’, you can encourage calm by:
- Breathing correctly,
- Breaking the situation down with a list,
- Acknowledging your emotions,
- Looking at the big picture,
- Making smart lifestyle choices,
- Leaning on family and friends,
- Avoiding worst-case scenario thoughts,
- Seeking out relaxation,
- Trying the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise,
- and Making up your mind that you will survive
Tell me in the comments below what methods you use to overcome stress and keep calm in the storm.
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