Struggling to stay positive and keep calm on a day-to-day basis? You’re not alone.
We all have to deal with stress throughout the day, the week, the month — pretty much always. It’s how we deal with this stress that determines our successes in work and in life.
The key is to cultivate a mindset of constant calmness.
That’s a much more attainable goal than it may sound at first blush. Here are seven practical tips that you can employ today to calm your mind and create healthy mental habits that will let that calmness grow over time.
1. Check your emotional responses
When something provokes you and threatens to wreck your calm, it’s easy to lash out. We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another. But as Ronald Alexander Ph.D. writes at Psychology Today, your first step is to recognize this “unwholesome emotional reaction,” as he calls it, and give yourself a moment to process that feeling.
2. Take a deep breath
When stressful situations arrive, our breathing is likely to become shallow and quick. When we’re not breathing deeply, it stresses our bodies, which then leads to more shallow breathing, and so on.
So if you find yourself taking small, quick breaths from your upper chest, try these steps:
- Disconnect from work. Take a break. Relax. Just ignore the emails and switch the phone to airplane mode for a few minutes. Close your eyes.
- Concentrate on slowing your breathing. Put your hands just above your belly button, and place your feet firmly on the floor. With your eyes closed, take slow breaths. Imagine your belly is a balloon you are trying to inflate. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through the mouth. It’ll just take a few moments for you to feel calmer.
3. Let go of any physical tension
This goes hand-in-hand with taking a deep breath. As your body viscerally responds to stress, it will tense up. Let that tension go as you exhale. Daniel Wallen at Lifehack even recommends massaging any points of intense tension, or visualizing yourself somewhere more peaceful.
More on visuals in a minute.
4. Let your mind wander
Some people get so immersed in the situation at hand that their stress levels rocket. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time for a break.
The mini-break should resemble an actual vacation. The process of removing your focus from the activities that are causing high levels of stress will allow you to gain perspective and the motivation necessary to get back at it with a more relaxed state a mind.
Your mental vacation can be thinking of anything from happy memories to upcoming events you’re looking forward to. It doesn’t have to be momentous; something pleasurable like a delicious meal enjoyed with friends is sufficient. Of course, if you’re an adventurer at heart, you might want to fantasize about finally conquering Everest.
5. Write down the tasks you need to accomplish
Our lives are busy, and with the Internet, work never stops. We’ve lost the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day; the sense of having done a good day’s work isn’t as readily available to us when urgent emails and text messages can interrupt us at home, at mealtimes or in bed.
That’s all highly stressful, and one easy way to combat the feeling is to make a to-do list and cross off the items as you complete them. It’s visual proof at a glance of how much you’ve accomplished in real time, and gives you back a sense of stress-reducing control.
Remember to add “mini-break” and “breathe” somewhere in the middle of your list.
Practice visualizing happiness
Similar to taking a mini-vacation, visualizing images that make you happy can reduce stress. These can be actual images you’ve got in your workplace, like pictures of your family or artwork you’ve got on the walls. You can also visualize a place that you enjoy, which can be anything from a favorite chair to a beach where you can just about feel the sun on your skin and hear the waves lapping.
To be really effective, visualization needs to be practiced. It’s not a natural state of being: like meditation, the more you do it, the better you get at it. With enough practice, just the thought of your chosen image will immediately reduce stress and enhance calmness.
Remember: You’ve got this
If you’re stressing over a goal you’ve failed to achieve, whether it’s work-related or personal, first remember that everyone has been in that situation. It might not feel great, but it’s not unique and people do move on and conquer even greater things.
A practical tip here is to have something in reserve to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or expensive, but do plan events or mini-goals in the interim to keep you looking forward.
Let’s say you got passed over for a promotion you thought you had in the bag or didn’t get a great assignment. Acknowledge your feelings as valid, but instead of dwelling on the negative treat the whole experience as a learning opportunity. Find out from the decision-makers why you weren’t selected, and use that feedback to plan interim goals. These might be upgrading skills so that the next time, you’ll be in a better position to get what you really want.