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The other day, I received an email from a client with the word “insurance” in the subject line. “Oh great,” I thought. Already, I was imagining the bad news in that email and the heated conversation that would follow.
You see, a few months ago there had been a sticky situation involving this same company and insurance. In the end it all worked out, but it was a big hassle. I envisioned the same scenario playing out all over again.
As my emotions started to get clouded, I told myself to chill out. That it was probably nothing.
I was right, as it turned out. The email was just a friendly reminder.
But what do you do if the situation IS as bad as you thought it would be (or worse)?
How do you keep calm when things don’t go your way?
I’d like to tell you that if the email had contained bad news, I would have remained calm and collected.
I know for a fact, though, that the old me would not have stayed cool. The old me would have had a conniption fit like the air conditioner who explodes in The Brave Little Toaster.
Well, ok, maybe not that dramatic. But you get the picture.
Why freaking out gets you nowhere
Automatically assuming the worst case scenario and then getting all worked up is a dumb idea because what if, as was the case with that email, it turns out to be a false alarm?
Then you’ve just wasted a bunch of time and energy.
But in Scenario B, if the news was as bad as you thought, freaking out beforehand is an even worse idea. Why?
You’ve already lowered your energy level and put yourself in a poor mental state, making you ill-prepared to handle the news.
It’s like tensing up before receiving a shot from the doctor. The shot’s just going to hurt worse.
If you’re calm, on the other hand, you’re better equipped to deal with the situation
Your brain isn’t clogged up with all that anger and frustration and “why me?” gibberish. You can evaluate your options with more clarity.
Looking back, every difficult situation I have been in has gone much better when I approached it with a level head and a neutral emotional palette.
Conversely, when I let my emotions get the best of me, things always went awry.
In many cases, it came down to pride. For instance, when a miscommunication with roommates left me scrambling to find a new living situation, rage and indignation welled up in me.
Thoughts of, “How dare they? It’s not right!” throbbed in my head. I was determined to let them know they had wronged me.
Yes, it’s important to stand up for yourself when something isn’t fair.
But it’s more important to be happy than to be right
It’s a cliche but it’s true. If I had just swallowed my pride and handled the situation with grace and maturity, it would have been so much easier for everyone. Plus, it all worked out for the best anyway.
It always works out for the best.
Life has a way of balancing out the scales
While we’re on the subject of keeping calm, let’s address another source of frustration for many people: technology. At least if another person’s bothering you, you can yell at that person and hope you’re reaching them on some level.
But with a computer? Or a bad wifi connection? Fat chance.
This fact of life, though, doesn’t stop us from flying into a rage when Microsoft Word crashes for the 10th time or WordPress fails to cooperate once again.
Thankfully, there’s a simple way to fix the situation.
The next time you start seeing red, ask yourself two simple questions:
Is it worth it? Is my frustration helping the situation or is it making it worse?
For instance, when my website updates would take a long time to process, my automatic, knee-jerk reaction would be to start huffing and puffing.
When I think about it, though, that’s an extremely unnecessary — not to mention counterproductive — reaction.
First of all, it’s really not a big deal. Who cares if I have to wait an extra few seconds?
Second of all, I’m not making the situation any better. All I’m doing is giving myself a headache.
Finally, reacting in such a manner is particularly dumb in my situation because I have epilepsy. While one minor freak-out probably won’t induce a seizure, it’s not exactly doing favors for my mental health.
In fact, regularly caving into anger and frustration is not good for anyone’s mental health. According to this article, such chronic stress can cause serious damage to our brains.
I used to think that being calm meant shutting off your emotions. My attempts to be stoic, to be a blank slate, resulted in a kind of all-or-nothing approach that was impossible to maintain.
On the one hand I would be emotionally inexpressive (internally and externally), but then I’d get worked up over trivial things, making mountains out of molehills.
Since then, I’ve discovered that emotions are less like a faucet and more like a dial
That is, you don’t turn your emotions on and off. Rather, you modulate them.
It all comes down to a decision. Are you going to let external circumstances determine your emotional reactions and in turn, your happiness?
Or are YOU going to be the boss?
I’m not perfect by any means. I still get angry, annoyed, and impatient when things don’t go my way.
But recently, I’ve made a point to keep myself in check. Each time my frustration-o-meter begins to rise, I take note of what’s happening.
Without judgement (because beating yourself up only makes the situation worse), I ask myself, “Is it really worth it?”
Of course, the answer is always a resounding, “No!”
Then I keep calm and go about my business 🙂
I have to say, as a result of this simple exercise, I feel much more centered and at peace. I also feel more in control knowing that if I get thrown for a loop, it’s not going to wreck my entire day.
Keeping calm during minor hiccups builds up your mental muscle
You become more resilient over time, allowing you to remain cool and collected during more major crises as well.
The best part is, this is only the beginning. Once you learn how to release anger and frustration, you’ll be able to handle anything life throws your way, no matter how big or how small.
And tell me below — what is one situation that gets you “hot under the collar?” How will you work on managing those emotions?