The other day I got a text from a client who told me (for the third time!) she needed to reschedule our coffee date. Ugh. It was an important, time-sensitive business meeting that I was well-prepared for and even scheduled business travel around.
What did I want to do? Text straight back, call her a flake, and tell her not to worry about coffee—ever? Yes. Ha! But I didn’t. Because I am restrained and professional and composed? Hell no. It was because I had my hands full with groceries, two packages, and a dog leash. The light of the text peeped out of my bag, and I saw the cancellation note but couldn’t reach my phone. I had no choice but to wait the 15 minutes it took me to walk home to give her a call and reschedule.
What happened in those 15 minutes? The first five were jam-packed with feelings of irritation, frustration, and anxiety. The following five minutes were the same, but a little less so. The final five? Well, I felt OK. A tad stressed, sure, but I surrendered to the change and felt almost back to normal.
What helped? There was a forced distance and time delay between me and “the problem.” (Thanks, universe!) I wasn’t able to act on my instincts to get mad and throw my phone against the nearest wall.
When have you been stressed or aggravated? Many times I’m sure. Here are some pretty common examples:
- Airport delays
- Friends being late, forcing you to wait around and waste time
- Being told last minute you have to present/lead a group/take over a project
- When you feel unfairly blamed/confronted/in trouble over something
- Making a mistake at work (and your heart sinking at the realization)
- Someone else getting the job you applied for
- When a friend/spouse/relative makes an insensitive comment
- When technology fails you and you lose your 27-slide presentation
- You see an ex online with a new love interest
- Stuck in traffic en route to an important appointment
What are we to do in these times? Scream, shout, kick, cry, lose it? Sometimes we will, yes. I am very guilty of acting out and not keeping a lid on my less-than-honorable emotions from time to time. But this only leaves us feeling worse. Feeling guilty, embarrassed, and remorseful. Instead try following these steps the next time you feel like you’re about to lose it.
I am here. I am still. I am safe. I can feel my inhale and exhale. Everything’s OK.
1. Pause and breathe.
I say to myself, “I am here. I am still. I am safe. I can feel my inhale and exhale. Everything’s OK.” Even just 20 focused seconds of repeating this plus some deep breathing is instantly calming. Try it! If you can take 10 or 15 minutes (like I was forced to)—all the better!
2. Employ your rational mind.
Your emotional mind (ego) is not predictable or necessarily correct. The good news? You can keep it in check. Ask yourself, “How serious is this, really? Is the world going to end? Is this life and death?” Invite into your mind your old, reliable friends logic and reason.
3. Refuse to catastrophize.
Once you realize the very worst that can happen is you miss a flight, or you’re going to be 10 minutes late for a date, or you may have to work overtime—understand that is all it is. There will be another flight. You can take those 10 minutes sitting in traffic to start a new podcast or catch up on the news. And working late once in a while never killed anyone. You can treat yourself to a glass of cabernet once you get home!
4. Focus on something else.
Like the old saying “A watched pot never boils,” a stressful situation is never eased when we glare upon it. Can you distract yourself? In a cab on the way to the airport, can you call a friend? When someone says something that offends you, can you think of that person’s good qualities and forgive her, or just get busy cleaning your closet? When your boss gives you a stack of work, can you think about how much more fun that upcoming vacation is going to be—visualizing yourself on a beach with that juicy book?
In moments you have zero control, focus on what you can do in that moment.
5. Control what you can.
There is only so much we can control. We can’t control who our parents are. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control rent increases or our boss’ bad mood or subway delays. We can’t control the line at the drugstore. In moments you have zero control, focus on what you can do in that moment. I like to read the book I typically have on hand, write part of a blog post on my phone notes, delete old apps, text my mum, or write to-do lists. Your phone is the gateway to a million productive tasks—thanks, 2016!
6. Have a little faith.
The late best-selling author and spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer said, “Everything isalways working out perfectly.” Have you ever noticed when things haven’t worked out it’s because something better was waiting—a better apartment, a higher-paying job, a more awesome S.O. than you could have imagined? I like to surrender to a greater plan in times of stress (only once I have followed all of the above steps).
And the coffee I had to schedule for the fourth time? It worked out better than ever. Not only did we have a kick-ass coffee date, but it also turned out that a friend surprised me with a visit to New York the very week I was supposed to have the meeting. I would have been out of town and missed my friend unless my client cancelled when she did.
Ah, sweet surrender.