During my early college days, I remember one of the biology practicals class when the lecturer was explaining the concept of genes – DNA and RNA stuff. She then switched to genetics ie. the study of genes. She emphasized on how an individual pursuing this field had to be a calm and composed and with loads of patience. I remember telling the lecturer about my excited interest in it and that someday I would be in it. She gave that sarcastic smirk and commented that I was far from it. Well, cut to the present times, I’m certainly far from Genetics but atleast I’ve understood what it takes to possess the art of being calm.
In one of the client briefings at a client site, I remember how the laptop malfunctioned and I couldn’t share the presentation that was prepared having spent hours and hours on it. I was confident to manage the problem with my technical acumen, but soon, that confidence gave way to small trickles of sweat in that air-conditioned office. Those were not the days of cloud sharing and hence we couldn’t even access our computers back in our office. My client at the time was an amazing guy who was calm and empathetic of the situation and allowed me to resolve the issue.
Similarly, I have also been through more stressful situations later in life but managed to escape unscathed, thanks to some preparation.
What happens in stressful situations
Humans have been facing stressful situations from the times they were hunter-gatherers. The stress of being hunted down by wild animals, of being stuck in extreme weather, of not finding food, of being attacked by other humans, etc. I don’t believe life would have been anything but peaceful in those times too. That led to their brains being wired for a shoot-or-scoot response. Either retaliate or run away from it. Both ways, we must be prepared for action and that is what scares us the most. A lot of changes occur in our bodies when faced with threats or stressful situations. Our heart beats faster to pump in more blood to meet the extra oxygen requirements. The body produces more adrenaline to strengthen muscles for this action.
We are faced with a problem that we are not prepared to encounter and is totally unexpected. The body experiences several sudden changes in its chemical composition that helps one to face stressful situations that requires one to be on the toes. So in such a scenario, if I tell you it’s wise to keep calm amidst stressful situations, would you laugh it away saying it’s impossible?
How to stay calm and cool
It may sound counterproductive to many that staying cool and composed in a stressful situation may worsen the situation. A person’s first thought to stress is to react and not respond. But remember, stress is a mental construct and something which you can change through perception. In many regions, the moment someone sees a snake, the first reaction is to grab a stick and kill the snake, assuming it to be poisonous and further, that it will bite me. One can very well undertake to pick the snake and release it in the wild.
Here are some of the ways that I’ve found to work in any given stressful situation and how you can go about it:
- When faced with a stressful situation, don’t react instantaneously, rather, take stock of the situation and weigh your responses. Unless you have faced a blow on your face by someone, you don’t always have to react to save yourself immediately.
- Breathe deep. Breathing increases oxygen supply to the body and the brain and also allows time to think rationally.
- Assess how you’re feeling right now and what exactly is your fear. Is it possible to allay all those fears through self-talk? If yes, go ahead and talk yourself out of the stress
- Change your side. Rather than confronting people or situations, see how you can put it to advantage. Is your ego hurting you that is causing all the stress? Laugh it out. The ego is like a monkey (many cultures, including Indian iconography, depict the human ego in the form of a monkey that keeps doing its antics) which needs to be controlled lest it controls you
- Have your own set of coping mechanisms that have helped you in the past. Revisit them for better utilization of what works
- Scientist Elizabeth Kirby has found out that stress actually entices the brain to produce more cells to improve memory (Read the paper here) but only when the stress is intermittent and not continuous which is when the brain suppresses its ability to develop new cells.
- All stress (except when someone is chasing you with a pointed gun) is always under your control and in the realm of your comprehension as to its causes and possible solutions. It is only because you want it to immediately go away that creates havoc in your mind and body.
- Monitoring self-talk goes a long way in assessing the reasons behind stress. Similarly, controlling intake of caffeine (that triggers certain hormones), getting adequate rest, staying upbeat about life, having a strong circle of friends whom you can approach for help and limiting your exposure to stressful circumstances (office hours, TV viewing, etc.) can also help
- A big help comes in the form of being solution focused and not problem focused. Instead of harping on how big the problem is, try and figure out possible solutions. However, never ever delve into the realm of ‘what if’ when you will again find yourself in the spiral of how things could go wrong.
- Remember that all problems have solutions, it’s not always not necessary that they come immediately, just the way you want or on your terms. Bend a little, search a little, stay calm and make peace with life.
Stress claims thousands of lives every year owing to psychological and physical distress. Heart problems, stroke, infertility almost always happens due to stress. Why create a Frankenstein when you can very well deflate it with some effort? There’s more to life than all that fuss.
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