How to stay calm in difficult times: 6 tips from a psychologist
Even those who are safe can experience terror, anxiety and panic attacks. We collected tips from a Danish psychologist who has worked with people in some of life’s most difficult situations and developed a self-help scheme
Ilse Sand was a pastor in a church in Denmark for eleven years before earning her degree as a psychotherapist to continue helping people cope with trouble and hardship. Her eight books, well-known to readers around the world, have also been published in Russia. They are addressed to people who are sensitive to the world around them and who are the most affected by external circumstances. We have collected six tips from the writer, which will help keep your inner balance even in the most anxious and turbulent times.
Ilse Sand, psychotherapist, writer
Sand advises to keep in mind the optimal level for you a psychological load and watch out for information flows that can “overload” you. This advice is especially relevant in times of war, when we are attacked by constantly updated social media feeds with photos and videos. In the book “The Distance of Happiness,” the psychologist advises to reduce the amount of incoming information, to take pauses to collect your thoughts, to avoid intensive communication, including on the Internet, and to read news in doses.
Keep your distance
We all have to engage in unpleasant conversations, and it can be especially difficult now. In such cases, Sand gives advice to maintain distance: “If the conversation is beginning to depress you, try to increase the distance between you, or take another, more private position that allows you to focus on how you feel. Sitting very close to the other person, you can hurt yourself. Sit half-turned to each other – it helps you not to get overwhelmed with your feelings. In addition, you will be able to look away. By looking away or putting our eyes down, we make it clear that we’re switching our attention from the speaker to ourselves.
If it takes you a couple of minutes to digest what you’re saying, politely ask the person you’re talking to to pause and be quiet for a minute or two: “A lot has been said, and it’s happening too fast. Let’s try to slow down the pace a little bit, so I can get the point across better.”
Analyze the emotions
You can’t control feelings directly, but you can influence them with your thoughts. If you feel anger or fear gripping you, analyze the feeling. When one is gripped by emotion, it can be difficult to incorporate rationality, admits Ilse Sand: “More often than not, we have no desire to detach ourselves from our thoughts. And of course, giving in to feelings and thoughts is easier. To distance yourself from them, you have to pull yourself together, take three steps back and look at yourself from the outside.
Some people find it helpful to record their emotions. Try to take a paper and write down in detail the reason for anger or fear: “Now I’m very angry, it scares me…”. By the time you finish a paragraph of text, you’ll quite likely have calmed down a bit. And then you can crumple it up and throw it in the trash.
We all have to engage in unpleasant conversations, and it can be especially difficult right now.
Get to know your fear.
Everyone experiences fear, but no one has ever died from it (true, you can die of fright if you have a weak heart, but that’s not the point). Ilse Sand advises getting to know the feeling, exploring it in safe circumstances to get used to the physiological sensations. Knowing how your body reacts to fear will make it easier for you to experience it.
You may notice that you are short of breath and dizzy before talking to a relative or just going outdoors. “Often the fear of fear is worse than the fear itself. Knowing what to expect from your fear will already greatly reduce your problem,” Sand writes in the book The Compass of Emotions. Try rating your level of fear on a ten-point scale: one to ten. The next time you catch your breath before an unpleasant conversation, you’ll say to yourself, “Yeah, I’m afraid by seven, I see,” and the fear will be easier to endure. If the fear is too strong to analyze it, try to concentrate on your own body. Ilse Sand advises her patients to breathe on their toes or walk a little, concentrating on the sensations in their feet.
Think the fear through to the end and develop a plan B
Another way is to visualize in color what you are afraid of, and think the situation through to the end to experience relief. In the book “From the Heart,” the writer provides a list of questions to try to answer, no matter how scary you are:
- How horrible will things go in the worst possible outcome?
- How long will it last?
- How will you do?
- Will you survive?
- Will you be able to make the best of even the worst situation?
It’s wise to think of a backup plan, just in case. That’s what you’ll turn to if the threat is too great. “Developing a plan B, and maybe C and D as well, is like familiarizing yourself with an evacuation plan and emergency exits in advance in case of a disaster. It’s a smart thing to do and will give you confidence,” writes Ilse Sand.
Try to rate your level of fear on a ten-point scale: one to ten.
Don’t rush to bed.
After overstimulation, you’re likely to feel a loss of energy. Your first inclination will be to fall into bed and sleep for as long as you can. But in a state of hyperstimulation it will not be easy to fall asleep, and sleep will not bring relief.
Ilse Sand advises setting aside a couple of hours before going to bed for “vegetative time,” when you do nothing difficult but actually calm your psyche. An unburdening activity, like going for a walk or cleaning, can help distract you. If you’re journaling or doing creative writing, take the time to do that, and sleep will do much more good. “Vegetative time” the writer suggests setting aside time before exercise, too. In “Close to the Heart,” she writes, “If I have to give a lecture, I don’t go anywhere the night before and try to stay calm. During the lectures my perception must be cleared of all unnecessary impressions and raw memories.”
How to remain calm in any situation
Restlessness is a distinctive feature of our contemporaries. We have to be on time everywhere, to keep up, to be ahead of the curve. Even the very thought of how much there is to do already makes us anxious. If a person achieves something, as a rule, he does not calm down, but is even more worried about the safety of assets. And it is not just a habitual background of life. Anxiety becomes the cause of chronic stress, physical and mental diseases, forms suicidal tendencies. If stress has taken a chronic form, you can get out of this state only by making efforts and constantly working on yourself.
Why do we worry?
Anxiety is a natural reaction to stress. We all experience anxiety, nervousness, fear and apprehension. In some situations, anxiety alerts us to danger and helps us respond appropriately to the threat. But when anxiety becomes excessive, unmanageable or stays with us for a long time, it is considered an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a common group of mental disorders, affecting the lives of 30% of adults on the planet. In addition, a person can be haunted by panic disorder – a sudden attack of intense fear, covering a person for several minutes.
Panic attacks can lead to difficulty breathing and heartbeat, cause tremors, dizziness, and confusion. A sudden burst of panic can occur even from a calm state.
Phobias – an unreasonable fear of something (heights, sight of blood, insects, etc.) – are not uncommon. Such fear is disproportionate to the real danger, but the person is not able to control himself/herself, which causes problems in communication or professional activities. Chronic anxiety gives rise to obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other conditions.
What stresses lead to
The human nervous system sees little distinction between emotional and physical threats. If you have an argument with someone or fail to turn in your work on time, your body may react just as strongly as when faced with a real life threat.
Living in this state leads to serious health problems, disrupting all body systems. Stress suppresses the immune system, upsets the digestive and reproductive systems, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, and accelerates the aging process. The insidious thing about stress is that it destroys the body invisibly. You get used to it and stop noticing it.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of stress:
- Memory problems and an inability to concentrate.
- Seeing only the negative aspects of life.
- Anxious thoughts and constant worrying.
- Irritability and aggressiveness.
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Pain of unclear origin.
- Increased heart palpitations.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Use of alcohol or cigarettes to relax.
Silence represents the absence of both external (speech) and internal dialogues and monologues (active mind activity). Inner silence becomes attainable only at the fifth stage of yoga – pratyahara (distraction of the senses from external objects), which is inaccessible to most people, especially at the initial stage.
How to learn not to worry and be calm
If stress has entered your life, getting rid of it is not easy. To understand how to be calm, you need to know where people encounter stress most often.
Busy schedules, excessive ambition, and an unhealthy atmosphere in the team – these factors affect physical and emotional health. Fear of losing your job hangs over every hired employee to a greater or lesser degree. And fear is a direct path to constant worry, and it is impossible to become calmer in such conditions.
In our world, money is a pledge of well-being, an indicator of success and an opportunity to occupy a high position in society. People are stressed by the lack of money and by the presence of money. After all, money can be lost at any time, and then you have to give up your status.
Another serious stress factor, causing all kinds of complex and unexpected emotions, from shock and anger to guilt and deep sadness.
The best way to avoid stress is to always remain calm in any situation, regardless of the circumstances. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Sometimes stress cannot be dealt with alone. Friends and family members act as a good stress absorber. When there are people you can count on for support, negative incidents are less overwhelming.
The ability to control life’s circumstances inspires confidence in one’s own abilities and allows one to cope with stress. Of course, only a few people are able to manage life completely, but at the everyday level, many people are able to take many situations into their own hands: not to be late, to submit reports on time, to keep promises made. Already this may be enough to always remain calm.
In addition to the circumstances of life, it is not superfluous to control your emotions.
Both modern scientists and sages of the past agree that sadness and depression as well as exuberant joy are devastating, take away energy and the ability to respond adequately to what is happening.
Yoga and meditation for tranquility
Their value is that they have a tangible effect and are available not only to advanced practitioners but also to the average person. You don’t have to be very strong or flexible to do the asanas and meditate, you don’t have to spend long hours in solitude.
Regular practice of 30-40 minutes a day is enough. Yoga should be gentle and calm, stretching asanas and spine workout in bends, twists and bends are preferable.
Shavasana for stress is one of the main practices. If you dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to relaxation, you can already feel positive changes in a week. Of course, the cause of stress may not disappear, but the attitude towards what is happening will change. And this is already a serious step toward a calm perception of reality.
Meditation is a separate point in gaining balance. As a rule, it is recommended to meditate after work with physical body – after yoga practice or light exercises. But you can work with the mind at any time and at any opportunity. Today there are dozens of types of meditation. There are meditative practices while sitting cross-legged, while walking or practicing yoga. You can quiet the mind by visualization or concentration, by engaging the breath or by chanting mantras.
Lead a Quiet Life
An eventful life is considered a role model today. But if you travel a lot, frequent cultural events, meet with friends, keep social media accounts, change hobbies and jobs, such hectic activity depletes the nervous system and wears out the body.
To maintain psychological and physical health, it is necessary to live in accordance with circadian rhythms, follow a daily regimen, and eat right.
To be harmonious and consistent in self-development, three aspects must be considered: the physical, the energetic, and the spiritual. If any of these aspects is not paid attention to, the development will be incomplete, one-sided and can lead to unpredictable results. The problem with most self-development methodologies, be it some religion or other self-improvement systems, is that most often this balance does not exist. There are some self-development methodologies that focus only on the physical aspect, such as sports. The physical body develops, while energetically and spiritually a person, as a rule, on the contrary, degrades. The problem is different in various religious movements, where the emphasis is put on the spiritual development and partly on the energetic development, while the physical aspect is left out. Moreover, some religious teachings even call not to take care of the physical body at all, because it is temporary or even declared an illusion.
Sooner or later the modern man has to choose between a calm and healthy life or an active one, but under chronic stress.
A quiet life is not necessarily a boring and dull existence. Each of us, if we wish, is able to give meaning to our being. And the calmer the mind, the more accessible the spiritual values are.
Change your mindset
Staying calm in a stressful situation is not an easy task. And it starts with changing your worldview. Without this step, it’s impossible to calm down, get rid of stress, or make time for yoga every day. The main problem is the fear of being without money or other material resources, which have become the measure of value.
But when a person realizes that all material things are temporary, and in the next reincarnations they will take away only the consequences of their positive or negative deeds, the priorities of life change.
There is time for spiritual practices, for good deeds, for proper sleep and health care.
How to calm down in a particular moment
What to do if there is an urgent need to get rid of anxiety, anger or melancholy thoughts? Of course, a complex approach to solving such problems is needed, which includes global lifestyle changes. But express methods will also help to always stay calm under pressure.
Try to find a secluded place and breathe quietly. For emergencies, it’s better to master full yoga breathing or anapanasati pranayama. If possible, do nadi shodhana pranayama, which balances out the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
Bending (Uttanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, Pashchimottanasana) or inverted asanas (Halasana, Sarvangasana, Shirshasana) can be very effective. Several balances can be performed (Veerabhadrasana III, Ardha Chandrasana, Vrikshasana, Garudasana).
The vibrations of Om mantra work in several directions at once: it calms the body, mind and emotions. Mantras give the effect of pranayama and concentration, this practice can be performed while sitting, walking in the woods or in the park.
Stillness is a science that has to be learned by practicing not to react, not to be provoked, not to get involved in the whirlwind of emotions. At first it seems impossible.
But simple practices very soon will yield a result. And you will like this result: a sober and objective view of what is happening, the ability to prioritize and boldly face any events. In any case, it is worth a try!