The 5 Most Effective Methods for Keeping Calm in a Chaotic World
I recently attended an active shooter training for work. A local police captain lead the training, and he in this training he spoke about contributing and common factors among mass shooters. Although several factors are up for heated debates, like the shooters are typically male, any age, access to guns, loss of moral values, testosterone levels, etc., one thing that struck me is that the captain mentioned one common thread is a lack of adequate coping skills.
It’s no doubt, life can be stressful at times, and it seems to be getting even more so by the minute. Healthy coping skills are imperative, and I think even more important for not just mental health, but health in general.
I see the signs that say, “Keep Calm and Carry On” and I feel that the reminder is about as effective as telling a bunch of kids to “Calm Down” when they have had too much sugar.
I believe we are all longing for some peace and calm in our lives. I know I have been. I even heard that one of the reasons farmhouse décor, Chip and Joanna, Marie Kondo and minimalism have been so appealing is that people just want things to be calm and simple, and it’s no wonder people are looking for peace.
Of course, there are plenty of popular, mainstream, albeit fun but possibly unhealthy choices for coping skills, and different vices are abundant, such as smoking, drinking, overspending, overeating, undereating, cutting, etc., but what about the healthy coping skills?
I was speaking with a Doctor of Child Psychology recently and she shared that there are 3 types of healthy and effective coping skills, that not only work for kids, but people of all ages.
The first is Breathing. I know this is not an earth-shattering revelation, but this one really does help me at times. When I’m really scared or nervous, as when I’m going over a high bridge or overpass. It’s a real thing. I am like this poor guy in the link below.
I’m always afraid I’m going to pass out from the fear and THEN go off the ramp or whatnot. I know. It’s ridiculous. Particularly since I live in HOUSTON where you have to go over one of these nearly every day. It’s really kind of amazing I get anywhere. But I do breathe through it when needed.
I honestly don’t know if it really calms me down, but if I focus on my breathing, I’m focusing on that rather than freaking out that I’m going sky high and my car might flip, and I might pass out from the fear. When I was in the active shooter training, they also referred to “combat breathing” and said it was what the military uses for stressful situations. Combat breathing is breathing in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. Easy enough to remember. I’ve done breathing before but maybe not have counted it, so I’ll try this the next time I am anywhere on the highway.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
The second is Progressive Muscle Relaxation, where you release the anxiety physically by tensing your muscles, then releasing.
The Doctor provided a relaxation script for younger children which was kind of cute, but my child did not want to sit through me reading it. The Doctor suggested us doing it as a family. We have yet to actually try it together, but here is a script from the University of Washington https://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/TF-%20CBT/pages/4%20Emotion%20Regulation%20Skills/Client%20Handouts/Relaxation/Relaxation%20Script%20for%20Younger%20Children.pdf
I was at a resort spa a few years ago and the yoga instructor started his class with these. I guess it works okay for some, but I can’t really say it is 100% effective other than just having me focus on something else, or kind of focusing on something else. The instructor said he once fell asleep when he was teaching it. Now that’s a relaxing job!
The third is distraction. I think out of these three, this one is my favorite. Going outside, binge watching TV (yes, apparently sometimes this is okay), running or playing a sport. Getting out is the key. But what if you don’t FEEL like it? What if you just want to wallow for a while? I think sometimes it’s easier to be sad or melancholy or doing nothing than it is effectively dealing with things even though you want them to change. Or even if you set your mind to it, and try to take a few steps forward, and don’t see immediate results, I ask myself, is it worth it?
I remember hearing Brene Brown dealt with a lot of anxiety from her initial Ted Talk going viral, so she zoned out and watched 8 hours of Downton Abbey, and then was okay. I love me some Downton Abbey, and Brene, so if she can do it, I can do it, right? That could help me. For a while. But you must find what works best for you. And even though binge watching a Netflix show rocks, or shoe shopping (which yes, calms me down, too) can alleviate the anxiety or pain for a short while, a better alternative my therapist recommended to me years ago was to do something active.
In the movie “Benjamin Buttons, the ending message was to “Find Your Thing” whether it’s dancing, painting, running, sports, writing, playing an instrument. Take action in it and have your body and mind move in it to get you out of your fear. My spirit animal is a sloth, so the whole take action thing kind of makes me roll my eyes like a teenager, but I know it’s best for me. I remember hearing in Psych 101 at LSU that whenever a mental patient starts on an exercise program, his mental health nearly always goes up. And I’ve kept that with me throughout my years.
So, there’s three. Yet a few more I’ve picked up and found eve more helpful as I’ve grown are these:
Steven Covey preaches practicing a paradigm shift or challenging the way you think about the anxiety or problem in front of you.
Was it Dale Carnegie who said, “Life if 10% of what happens, and 90% percent of what you do with it.” I was listening to a podcast by Christy Wright who guest mentioned that your mind is 100% real estate, so you don’t want any unhealthy or negative thoughts hanging out in your precious personal real estate.
A new learning is that we are not our thoughts. They are just ideas, things, floating in the air, whether true or false, that visit us, and we can ask them to leave if they are unwanted. Rachel Hollis said that she even goes as far as to visualize an imaginary person who feeds her negative thoughts, and it helps her recognize how ridiculous they are. She even gave a name, “Pam” to the imaginary messenger, and she imagines this lady with a bad haircut and funky clothes. When she pops up with noticeable negative anxious messages, she tells her “not today, Pam.” I may have to try that.
The last one that I offer, and one that the Psychologist did not recommend, but I have found the most effective for me and others I speak with, is prayer. Max Lucado, who wrote “Anxious for Nothing” says, where there is prayer there is peace. The book is based on the passage from Paul that says “Do not be anxious about anything. In everything, present your request to God. Be anxious about nothing. Be prayerful about everything. Be thankful for all things.” In essence, he’s got you.
Out of all the coping skills, this is the one I hope my kids remember most when anxiety creeps into their precious real estate.
I was getting the bath ready for my son one night this summer, thinking about all the things I wanted to get done, as mothers do, started worrying “Am I doing enough for him? Am I doing too much on the other end? Are we pushing too hard? Are we not pushing enough? Nutrition? Friends? Schools. Electronic Devices, Schedules, and what about his sister? And my breathing started getting fast and my heart started racing. And as I ran the water and put my hands underneath it to feel the temperature, something quietly spoke to me and told me to keep pursuing the books, keep seeking out help from research and expert advice, keep trying new techniques, but know that only God knows what’s best for him. Only He knows and can give him what he truly needs. And that I must do as a mother is listen to that voice and follow that guide. And the way is through prayer. And taking the time to make it happen.
The next day I was at my hairdresser, and I told him the message that I realized, that only God really knows what’s best for my kids, and he put his brush down, looked at me in the mirror and right in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder and said “ You are right. And you know what? He will not fail you. He will NOT fail you.” And I know wont. He will not fail any of us when we listen to him.
So, I suppose we can keep calm and carry on if we practice these methods, or we find our “thing” that works for us; Yet, most of all, we can relax knowing he’s got us and will not fail.