How do you react when life gets overwhelming? If you're like a lot of people, you probably do one of the following things — freeze up, cry, or totally panic. None of these are incredibly helpful, though, so it's important to know how to handle yourself in a stressful situation.
Of course, there are so many different types of stressful situations — from a simple Internet argument, to a tiff with a friend, to a full-blown actual emergency. It's impossible to break down how you should act in any specific situation. But when it comes to stress, no matter the source, the body experiences a pretty typical array of symptoms.
According to WebMD, stress can cause feelings of agitation, moodiness, and confusion. And if the situation is really bad, you may even go into the realm of the panic attack, with fun things like tunnel vision and heavy breathing. In short, stress is not a good feeling, and succumbing to it does you no favors when it comes to dealing with whatever is going on.
If you've ever been in a stressful situation, whatever it may be, you know that the best way to handle it is with a clear and focused mind. So learning how to regulate your emotions will work wonders when it comes to dealing with anything from arguments to accidents.
Here are some tips for keeping your cool.
1. Stop What You're Doing
It can be easy to lose your head in a crazy situation, so it's best to pause and give your brain a chance to catch up. This works wonders as it gives you time to assess what the heck is going on and figure out your next step. It also gives you a chance to calm down and respond rationally, should you be dealing with something heated, like an argument, according to an article on WikiHow.
2. Faceplant Yourself On The Ground
I wouldn't recommend this one for dangerous emergency situations, obviously. But if you find yourself alone, by all means take a second to lie on the floor. Of course you can pull up a chair, or get into bed, but there's something nice about crashing on the floor that really says "I need a minute." As Lynn Ponton, MD, suggests on PsychCentral.com, "Lie face down on the floor and begin breathing deeply and slowly, with your hands resting under your face. Do this for five minutes." When you get up, hopefully you'll be better able to deal with whatever's stressing you out.
3. Lighten Up A Bad Situation
So you're about to have an uncomfortable conversation with your partner, or a potentially bad chat with your boss. Of course these situations suck, but there are ways you can force yourself to lighten the mood. According to author Harrison Monarth on Entrepreneur.com, "Consider ways to blunt the hard edges of the situation. Inject humor to lighten the mood or modify the agenda by making certain points salient that wouldn’t otherwise have arisen." For example, for that scary convo with your boss, Monarth suggests asking to meet in your office, or in a coffee shop, as a way of softening the situation. You can't change the fact that the conversation will be difficult, but you can make it less stressful by keeping it as light as possible, and choosing a more comforting venue.
4. Consider Your Amygdala
Let's say you've found yourself in a heated disagreement. Maybe it's an angry family member, or someone on the subway. You feel your body tense up, and experience that oh-so-dreaded stress response. According to Harvard.Health.edu, when someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
When this happens, take a second to check how you respond. As Monarth notes, "This 'reappraisal' can quickly connect you to your prefrontal cortex and stop that debilitating emotional trigger. Likewise, by acknowledging your reactions in that initial emotional period, you can weaken the alarm system. Label what is happening — “I can feel the anxiety coming” — and the amygdala is less likely to take over." By taking a moment to regulate your emotions, you're more likely to respond to stress in a calm and efficient way.
5. Stay Aware Of Your Surroundings
This one is especially important for truly stressful events, like when 911 may need to be called. According to WebMD, the first thing to do is assess the situation as a whole. Ask yourself what the most serious problem is. What do you need to do first? This is extremely useful when someone has been injured and you need to think of what to do next, while also keeping them safe. Looking around at your surroundings will prevent tunnel vision, and help you handle what's going on.
6. Look At This In The Grand Scheme Of Things
When something particularly upsetting is happening, it's nice to put it into perspective. As Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP, notes on PsychCentral.com, "Evaluate your stressful situation from a 'big picture' point of view. Ask yourself 'how important is this?' and 'will this matter in the long run?'" Things can feel like a big deal in the moment, but it can be calming to realize you probably won't even remember this moment in a year.
7. Let Go Of Control
Sometimes we get ourselves mixed up in stressful situations for no good reason. If you can't control the stressful event, or your involvement is not helping, then wash your hands of it and move on. According to an article on the topic on HealthGuide.com, "Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control — particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems."
Stressful situations are not fun, but it is possible to keep your cool when life is getting out of hand. So the next time you find yourself in a stressful spot, remember these tips for handling the pressure.