Many of my friends know me well. Maybe too well. And they know that I am a fairly calm person who rarely loses his cool. But how does it work exactly? How do I manage to keep myself calm when things all around me are hitting the fan or rolling downhill? Let me tell you some of the things that have worked for me:

Breathe

Nothing calms me like taking a deep breath – not only does it help me to get some oxygen into my brain to think but it also helps me settle down my heartbeat when it may have admittedly quickened due to the stress I am feeling or the situation that I am in.

Thinking fast and slow

Daniel Kahneman’s great book, Thinking fast and slow, outlines the two systems that our brains think: we have a system 1 and a system 2 type of thinking where one is ‘fast’ and one is ‘slow’. It’s what happens when we sometimes are tricked by riddles or seemingly easy problems – our ‘fast’ system immediately thinks of a solution based on the patterns, trends and solutions that we have thought of before, but our ‘slow’ system has not had time to kick in and really think about the problem to see if the solution can actually be used. All this is to say that when something stressful happens and you immediately either have a reaction or think of something to say immediately – it may not be the best option. Slow down, take some time to breathe, think about all of your options before proceeding.

Meditate / step away

Similar to breathing but more methodical in the approach – I try to step away from the situation and take some time to breathe and focus on other things. I do this because I almost always gain immediate clarity on the situation by separating myself from the cause of stress. Have you found it easier to recommend solutions to friends but when you are in the same situation, you find it difficult to see your way through? Stepping away and separating yourself from the situation can give you clarity that you will not immediately have when your blood is boiling and tempers are high.

Laugh it off

I have had so many stressful situations in the past and whenever I look back at them, I always laugh and think to myself “wow, I have gained so much from either being in that situation or making that mistake or failing, etc.” But why can’t you laugh up front? Sure, it may not be the most appropriate reaction to the situation so please test this carefully but laughing helps lighten the mood, get everybody’s stress down and really help put people around you in a positive mood so that you can positively resolve the situation.

Find a mediator / facilitator

Finding a third party may not always be the best solution but it can help to put things into perspective. I seem to rarely use this option because I can never find a mediator or facilitator that is impartial to both parties but I know it can help to get an outside perspective when things are at an impasse.

Talk to a friend

I get into an argument with my friend or boss. Tempers are high. I say things that I probably should not have said. And then when I go back home, I tell someone close to me what happened. Inevitably, when I explain the situation to my friend, I find that my friends provide me with a different perspective on the matter that I didn’t see when I was in the situation. For example, you may be extremely mad that a cashier did not treat you very well when you were buying groceries but you may not have known that the cashier was having a bad day themselves with a relative of theirs passing away. Get different perspectives on the situation before getting really angry!

Write a fake e-mail

If you find yourself extremely angry and wanting to vent somehow, write up an e-mail (without filling in any of the To: fields), writing everything you want to say to the other person in the e-mail. Swear, tell them that they should go to hell or go screw themselves. Call them the worst things on the planet that you would never say out loud. After writing everything done, do not send that e-mail. This is important so I’ll say it again. Do not send that e-mail. Save it in a draft folder and then leave it alone for a while. If after a few days, you read the e-mail and you still feel the same way, maybe, MAYBE, send the e-mail but I am sure that 99% of the time, you will find that you not reach the same level of anger as you originally felt. The e-mail is a great way to relieve some stress in a non-violent and non-harmful way.


What are your tips for relieving stress? What do you do when tensions are high? How do you find your calm? Serenity now?