'Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively'. Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
'You're Okay, Jessica'
Years ago I heard the story about a reporter who observed a mother in the grocery store calming her screaming toddler in full tantrum-mode. The reporter watched as this mother very calmly talked to the out-of-control child saying, "You're okay, Jessica. Everything is going to be okay, Jessica. Be calm, Jessica. Just breathe and calm down, Jessica."
The reporter was so impressed with how calmly this mother talked to her child she followed the young mother out into the parking lot to talk to her as she strapped her child into the car seat.
"I just have to say how impressed I am with how calmly you talked to baby Jessica in the store, " she said.
The frazzled mother turned toward the reporter and giving her a tired, little smile said, "I am Jessica!"
Calming the Beast
I can't tell you the number of times that story--and punch line--has popped into my head.
I'll be in the middle of a crisis of other's creation swirling around me, thinking 'stay calm', 'breathe', 'relax'--when suddenly I see myself with that tired little smile saying 'I am Jessica'.
Most of us hate that stressed-out, out-of-control feeling. But face it--many times throughout the day we're hit with situations pushing us out of balance and giving us that anxious, queasy feeling in our gut.
So many things happen outside of our control, but our own response to those out-of-control situations IS what we have power over. The question is how do we best calm ourselves when stress happens?
Calm Begins Within
You are the only one who can calm yourself. Jessica knew this and made a valiant effort to calm herself as the situation unfolded. This is no small feat when the stress-producing factor is another human being who is tired, hungry and over-stimulated (i.e. a bundle of reactions and emotions with no ability to rationally negotiate).
But before you assume I'm just referring to the difficulty of dealing with a toddler, think again. Consider how often you begin your day frazzled when you encounter another adult who is also on her last nerve and sparks fly. We all become a bundle of reactive emotions when we're tired, hungry and over-stimulated.
How to Step Down to Calm
1. Dis-engage. Find a way to dis-engage your emotions when stress happens. If you can, walk away from the immediate situation and keep your mouth shut. If it's not possible for you to leave the situation, dis-engage your mind by talking yourself down like Jessica did so you don't engage your mouth (WWJD--what would Jessica do?).
2. Nourish Your Body. Get in the habit of keeping your body well-nourished--eat protein every couple of hours to help keep your blood sugars even. If you discover you forgot to eat and hunger contributed to your reaction to stress, grab nourishing food as soon as you can.
3. Get Physical. Your stress response--or fight or flight response--is set up for you to take action. To dissipate the stress hormones in a positive manner, engage in something physical--pull weeds, take a walk, clean the house, dance or do yoga--anything that will burn off physical energy and calm the nerves.
4. Sleep and Do Nothing. Sometimes the very best thing to do is to do nothing. Stop thinking about what happened. Do something you enjoy. Sleep on it.
5. Stop and Start Over. When you're ready, let go of the anger, stress, anxiety and resentment. Restart your day and relationship.
'If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.' Chinese Proverb
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