Keeping Calm in Stressful Situations

Throughout our lives we are subjected to many situations that cause us frustration or fear or anxiety or any other number of negative emotions. We always wish we can avoid these kinds of encounters, but the reality is that most of our life is centered around conflict of some kind. In some ways this is a good thing because it is only when we are placed under strain and have to push our way through a situation that we are able to grow into something more than we already are.

I just went through something that was very stressful and could have ended in a catastrophically bad way, but that result was avoided because I was able to de-escalate the situation. High levels of emotion were involved and there was a lot of chaos in the fray, but in the end it all turned out to be nothing and we were able to resolve the situation with no lasting negative results. I won’t go into any real detail here, as it was a very personal situation that didn’t involve just me, but suffice it to say if it had been handled differently it could have been life altering.

If there is something we can learn from this kind of situation, it is that allowing our emotions to control our behavior almost never generates the kinds of results we would prefer to have. When we rush headlong into a fight or make snap decisions out of fear or make assumptions about a person based solely on very limited information, we have very little chance of thinking clearly and rationally approaching whatever the problem is to come up with a clear and logical solution. Emotion by its very nature is chaotic, the very opposite of what is needed in a crisis.

As I stated in the very first post for this blog, one of the things I hope to accomplish during the course of my writing is to not only discuss different topics that are important to me, but also to help people move toward a more logic based way of thinking. Our society today has shifted away from looking for efficient, effective solutions to our problems in favor of spinning our wheels trying to do things that make us feel good. There is little thought put into the decisions we make as a nation today, and the same is true for many of us in our own personal lives.

Perhaps the best skill we can hope to master is that of emotional self control. The ability to maintain our calm in any situation is something that is difficult to attain and even more difficult to do consistently. Depending on where you fall on that spectrum of control, getting to a place where you are able to always manage hectic situations in a good way could take many years to reach. I previously mentioned that behavioral issues usually take a very long time and require a lot of effort to change, and this definitely falls into that category.

It’s one thing to understand that we need to be calm in stressful situations, but something quite different to actually start doing it. Many people will be looking for some trick to make an easy transition from where they are now to where they want to be, but like nearly anything worth doing in life there just isn’t any easy way to make it happen. You just have to place your focus on making the change and maintain a constant readiness when the situations you have to deal with come up. To use a common parlance: practice makes perfect.

Obviously I’m not recommending you place yourself in stressful situations just to practice being calm. The chemicals your body generates during these times is not good for you and can be harmful over long periods of time. The idea is to spend time every day actively thinking about becoming better about how you handle conflict and get yourself mentally prepared every day for it. Go through scenarios in your mind and figure out the best way to handle them. Think about the different people you might interact with and how an argument might erupt and the best way to resolve it. Mental practice beforehand, however theoretical, at least gets your mind in the game before a potential situation. Waiting until you’re in it is far too late.

Too many times we are led down the easy path by people promising easy answers to hard questions. If it’s important for us to put a significant amount of time into searching for an answer, it probably doesn’t have an easy solution. Making things better for ourselves almost always requires hard work and dedication. That’s just the way things are. At least until they come up with a way to program bad behavior out of us. I’m not sure I’d want to live in that kind of world.

What do you think about emotional discipline? Do you struggle with keeping control during conflict? Have you ever had something terrible happen as a result of your inability to keep your cool? As we continue forward in this new society we live in today, we are seeing an increasing lack of emotional control. It is only when we can take a step back and try to look at things objectively that we can come up with the best solutions to our problems.

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