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The 4 Steps to Calming Down

Below is a paper I wrote for a summer class I am taking at Stanford University that I wanted to include here on Alifea! I hope it is able to show a different perspective on the inner battle between pride versus peace.

Has anyone ever been in a situation where they have gotten so angry, or so panicked, that they acted irrationally? Maybe you said things you did not mean, or even got to the point where you completely blacked out? It can feel different for everyone, but we all struggle with emotions like anger. It’s what makes us human. But, whether we are inconveniently rear-ended while driving, stressed and overwhelmed about exams, or in a heated argument with someone, learning how to calm down is an important life skill every human needs to reach an overall better quality of life.

People struggle with anger, panic attacks, and overall loss of emotional inhibition every day. In fact, according to the Mental Health Organization’s 2008 study, 12% of people report finding it difficult to control their own anger, one in five people report that they have ended relationships out of rage, and 64% of people strongly agree that people are getting angrier every day. Now, as humans, it is in our nature to be susceptible to mood changes and intense emotion, but learning the art of emotional control is vital in achieving mental clarity and allowing for more space/motivation to feel better feelings.

There are four main steps to calming down.

Step 1: Know What’s Coming.

It’s easier said than done; often we’re too caught up within our own emotions in the heat of the moment that an explosion of emotion (whether it be panic, anger, etc) sneaks up on us and we don’t know how to react. Learning to identify the signs of uncontrollable emotion helps us better maneuver through high stress situations with more clarity. It is more productive to be in tune with our internal signals rather than ignore them in a mode of fight or flight when all we want to do is confront the situation we find ourselves in. What are internal signals? Feeling our heart beats racing, jumping to dramatic conclusions, feeling heat creeping throughout our bodies (this is personally the first internal signal I always feel, especially in my neck and ears), our bodies tensing up which can be felt in gritting our teeth, and balling our fists are all great examples. Acknowledge these signals, because they are more important than we think. When we are familiar with them, we are empowered.

Step 2: Find your focus.

Acknowledging these internal signals helps us realize that they are all occurring within our bodily senses: our nervous system heightens and activates hormones like adrenaline that are responsible for our initial reaction to fight with or flee from the situation we are in. In the midst of all of this bodily tension, we lose focus, which is what leads us to ultimately react irrationally; saying/doing things we don’t mean, being aggressive, etc.

Gaining control just takes effort, and it starts with breathing. When you have reached the point of overstimulation of your internal signals, stop and breathe. Find a rhythm. I like breathing in for five seconds, holding for two, and breathing out for five more. Do this until you feel more relaxed. Just like running a race, taking the time to breathe will get your heart rate back down and help you find clarity again. Focus on the air going throughout your lungs, and feel your chest rising and falling. If breathing isn’t enough, there are other approaches. One of my favorites is the 5-4-3-2-1 method, which can be used when faced with anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, etc. Find 5 things you can see, 4 that you can feel, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell, and 1 you can taste. Depending on where you’re physically at, this might take a little bit of time and thinking, which helps even more in grounding.

Step 3: Physically Relax.

After you have mentally refocused, you need to show the same emotion to your physical body. Something I find really helpful is going through a checklist of my whole body, starting with my toes. I focus on each part of my body–toes, legs, core, fingers, hands, arms, neck, and head–and physically relax them. This even helps when I’m having trouble sleeping. It’s like a form of meditation and really helps you solidify a more peaceful and controlled state of mind, heart, and body.

Step 4: Let go.

The act of letting go can be really difficult. But it takes a sense of maturity and self respect that we all have within ourselves to prioritize our mental wellness over our pride.

I know some of you are probably thinking, “If I’m in an argument with someone, no way am I going to stop and take the time to breathe in and out for ten seconds.” And while getting the last word, or not looking “dumb” or “weak” may seem important, we have to ask ourselves at some point in life: What is truly important? And ultimately it is up to you as an individual to reach the point in life where you accept that true empowerment will never come from letting our emotions take control of us. I myself only recently came to this conclusion; I realized that it may feel easier to be hot headed, and to excuse it as something that can’t be helped. But it’s truly not easy. That loss of emotional control can stick with you for days, weeks, or for a life time. But finding it within ourselves to step back and realize that those grudges, those things we said and didn’t mean, that moment that we became people we didn’t recognize, chip away at our own happiness. To understand that winning the argument or not, getting the anger out temporarily one way or another, will truly not help us grow is a hard pill to swallow, and as I said earlier, it’s easier said than done. But it is what we all deserve.

There is no shame in learning how to calm down, and there is nothing impossible about it. It is a hard lesson to learn, but it is one of the most important things that we must teach ourselves, so we can make life worth truly living.


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