Irish Independent, July 24th 2018
Let’s face it, keeping a calm mind at all times can be challenging for most of us. When our buttons are pushed we become irritated, and this can escalate into stress and negativity. But learning to keep a cool head is key, because when we have chaos in our mind, it will trigger chaos outside too, which can send us on a downward spiral of unpleasant happenings.
Have you ever felt impatient when the person in front of you is taking ages chatting to the shopkeeper, even though there is a long queue, and you are in a hurry? Little things like this can rattle the cage of a busy person feeling short on time, but a person in a relaxed state of mind is at ease no matter what’s going on.
When we are calm we think clearly, allowing ideas and solutions to naturally flow into our mind. We are also more thoughtful and kind to others and don’t tend to overreact.
Challenges can arrive at any hour or minute of the day, so it’s a good idea to be prepared. The following tips and tools will help you to stay calm, no matter what’s happening.
Planning and allowing enough time to do tasks is key to maintaining calmness of mind. When we have too much to do and not enough time to do it, we tend to panic and fuel chaos in our mind, which in turn creates an unhealthy mental attitude that makes us vulnerable and easily agitated.
Sit down and write out all the tasks you need to do during the week/day ahead and allocate time for them in your diary. Always tackle the most challenging jobs first, and once they are completed you will have a clearer headspace and the mental ability to deal with remaining tasks in a calm and productive manner.
When people are negative or critical, it usually stems from habitual behaviour, and when we understand this we can stay calm and in control. Habit actually controls 80pc of what people do each day, and we all have established behavioural patterns dating back to our childhood, which may or may not be productive and positive. This doesn’t mean we should condone bad behaviour, but use tools to stay calm especially around family members or work colleagues.
If someone is negative or complaining, don’t engage or fuel the conversation, but say in your mind “this is who they are, they do that out of habit and I’m not taking it on board”. Secondly, you can say “I get it” or ‘that’s interesting’ and change the topic. Best of all is to completely change the subject and to compliment them on what they do well. For example, if your mum gets negative, you could say, “I meant to say the birthday cake you baked was amazing”. Start using this approach and watch it work like magic.
Don’t React, Respond
The truth is, we often react without thinking when something goes wrong or someone does something to upset us. It’s an instinctive reaction, based on fear and it’s neither rational nor appropriate and can cause upset to others and our selves.
When we encounter a situation or a person who puts us on edge, a good way to stay calm is to take 10 deep breaths. Excuse yourself if necessary, then ask yourself: Is this doing me any good? Will reacting make me feel better? This simple interruption clears your mind and allows you to think rather than act on impulse.
Meditation is a reliable way to train the mind to stay calm. Many believe it’s too difficult or only monks can meditate but really we can all meditate. Walking, singing and listening to guided meditation recordings are among the many techniques. There are numerous practices that can be explored via online research, in self-help books or local classes. The aim of the game is to quiet the chitter chatter in the mind and switch off, using a tool that works for you.
A simple technique I use with my clients is to close your eyes and focus on breathing. Be aware of your lungs, diaphragm and stomach as they fill with air and then slowly empty. When focusing on your breath, your thoughts pass by and you don’t engage with them. At the beginning I use a timer, set for 30-60 seconds and gradually increase the amount of time day by day. If you repeat daily, you will naturally progress and find yourself more in control, even in very challenging situations.
In addition to meditation, focus exercises are an excellent way of training the mind to do what you want, like staying calm in a crisis. Focus is a skill that can be developed, with practice at any age.
Sit down in a comfortable chair, either at home or work, and find a point or picture on the wall across from you. Time yourself for 30 to 60 seconds initially and hold your gaze on this point. You will find your mind wandering off into other stories going on in your life, but bring it back to the point. If you do this exercise every day for 30 days, you will find your self-control and focus will be ten times stronger.
Recharge and Reset
As we go through the ups and downs of the day it is useful to have a go-to place or activity to reset and recharge the mental batteries and maintain inner calm. Personally, I work indoors so prefer to recharge outdoors and get some fresh air. I walk to my local park and watch the ducks, and this transports me to a calm and beautiful place away from the computer and other demands.
Pick an activity that is feasible and works for you, and preferably ejects you from your seat, like a jog around the block or a walk with the dog if you work from home. Physically moving from the desk for just fifteen minutes of mental relaxation can make a big difference in the middle of a busy day and reset your mind to calm mode.
I recommend this short and effective exercise that you can practice daily or whenever you need an extra injection of calmness.
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and think of a place that makes you feel happy and at peace, every time you go there. This could be a favourite holiday spot by the sea or sitting with your pet or loved one in a relaxing chair. Immerse yourself into the picture and observe as if you are actually there. Take a couple of minutes and you will naturally become more relaxed in body and mind. This is a short and sweet exercise that you can do as often as you need to, and it will help maintain your inner peace.
Physical exercise is a marvellous way of calming the mind. Whether it is yoga, walking, cycling, rowing or running or any other energising routine, the physical movement naturally brings about calmness and clarity, as well as happiness helped by the endorphins that are released when we work out. If you don’t already have a daily physical exercise routine, get one.
Be good to yourself. Spend time with people that nourish you and make you feel happy, and avoid spending time with the ones that stress you out. Naturally this can be difficult when it comes to family members or work colleagues, so apply the tools above.
Also filter your intake of news and social media to ensure that it is entertaining not draining you. Perhaps you need to increase your diet of positive reading and inspiring movies. If you need information on something, think about asking a well-informed friend which may be more relaxing than trawling the internet for hours. In general, keep an eye out for what is causing you upset and irritation and eliminate as much as you can.
Affirmations are positive statements and great tools to help us shake off old established ways of thinking and behaving. When a statement is repeated over and over, eventually our mind starts believing it, and in turn this impacts our behaviour and results.
Write your own personal positive affirmation around staying calm, such as “I’m in control of me and I love being calm and relaxed at all times”. Say this out loud several times per day. Whenever you feel tested by people or circumstances, this affirmation will naturally flow into your mind and put you in a relaxed state.