5 key steps to a calmer you in challenging situations

by | Jul 25, 2022

Do you feel that sometimes your emotions just take over and then you’re left regretful of the way you handled things?

Do certain situations or people just get underneath your skin and your emotions get the best of you? You know, you hold it all in until you explode – unleashing all of the emotions that built up – Or maybe you completely shut down and withdraw. In these moments, your emotions debilitate you because it’s just too much!

Whether you’re having trouble with staying calm when you feel hurt, angry, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, guilty, upset, resort to numbness or experience any combination of these, let me tell you from personal experience that it’s possible to get off this unhealthy cycle and handle things better.

All it might take for you is the right strategy and some practice.

Yes, even if yours are really intense!

My own difficulty dealing with my emotions and my turning point

Personally, for the longest time everyday situations would be challenging for me – specially with the people who were closest to me. It started when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, and went on until my early 20s. I would either explode “out of nowhere” and lose my temper, or completely shut down and refuse to engage with anyone anymore. I’d be shouting or hiding away until loneliness was too painful to bare. Then I’d be back to the same cycle – anger to withdrawal, anger to withdrawal. This was my norm.

I can’t count the amount of times I felt completely regretful over something I said or did in the spur of the moment, or felt completely alone in dealing with everything that was going on inside of me. Even though I didn’t want to act in those ways, I just couldn’t control myself in those situations, and felt enslaved to my reactions. Frankly, I didn’t feel like I had a choice.

I remember one particular instance when I was 21. I was in my room when my brother made a “smart-ass” comment. I don’t even remember what the comment was now, but he was one of those people that could really get underneath my skin. And like I often did, I exploded out of nowhere. And… this time, I slammed my room door with all of my strength, in pure rage. I swear the door could have shattered from how hard I slammed it. I remember hearing the loud “BANG!!”, then my heart sunk to my stomach. Immediately after, I felt immense fear and shame wash over me. More intense than I had felt before. It was the realization that the door I just slammed with all of my strength could have hit his face. He was right at the other side of the door…

In that moment, I felt afraid of myself. I remember asking “who am I?”.

That was the moment I decided I didn’t want to be that person anymore. And from then on, I started practicing better ways of dealing with my anger. It took a bit of trial and error, it was not easy, but to this day, it has changed how I feel and react in difficult situations. And I’m proud to say, I have much less of them and can remain calm when they do happen (99% of the time anyway!).

You can have the same. You will thank yourself, and so will the people around you.

I want you to just take a moment to really think about how this can change your own personal life. What having more control over your triggers – over difficult situations and people – would mean to you. What would you gain? What would you no longer have to deal with?

Let this be your motivation!

Here are some important ways that a calm state of mind can benefit you:

I’m sure you already have your reasons and can imagine how much your life would improve if you could only remain calm and handle things better. But just in case you’re having trouble, or need a few more reasons, here are 4 important ones:

  1. Be more in control of yourself and your outcomes. It’s a very disempowering (and sometimes scary) experience when you act out of character because you’re overtaken by your emotions. It can make you feel ashamed, less trusting of yourself, more anxious, and less capable in dealing with situations in your life. When you can operate from a place of calmness, you feel more confident and in control of your outcomes.
  2. Feel less regretful. In a calm state, you are less likely to react in a way that you may later regret. This means less damage to your own life and less harm to the people around you.
  3. Make better decisions. When you’re feeling heightened emotions, your brain has trouble accessing the critical thinking part of your brain. This means that you literally can’t think logically, and you are more prone to impulsive decision making. You can read the actual research study on that here. On the other hand, in a calm state, your brain can access the areas it needs to think rationally and better problem solve. You are less likely to make mistakes and better able to make good decisions.
  4. Communicate better. A part of your ear and your brain involved in listening and language is blocked when you’re in a heightened emotional state. This makes it very difficult to communicate effectively. Staying calm can help you be better in tune with the outcome you want to achieve, as well as have better attunement with the person you are communicating with. This translates to better outcomes and better relationships.

You might be thinking, “but how Leyla? How can I stay calm? I’ve already tried everything and I haven’t been able to make that much progress.

If your self-control or willpower has been your main method of staying calm and collected, you may be surprised that it’s not a good long-term strategy (read more on that here). I offer a different solution that’s more practical and sustainable below.

Here are 5 key steps to a calmer you in difficult situations

You might want to take out your journal or a piece of paper for this.

Step 1: Become aware of your triggers. One of the most powerful strategies to be able to stay calm and collected in any situation is to know your triggers. Your triggers are what makes you feel heightened emotions that are problematic for you.

Ask yourself: “In what situations do I feel overtaken by my emotions?” Is this with certain people? Topics? Situations?

One of my triggers was my parents, specially in situations where they would tell me what to do, or point out something I did wrong. What are they for you? Do you get triggered when your spouse makes certain comments? Do you feel anxious with topics like money or intimacy? Do you feel anxious when you’re put on the spot?

List the people and situations that get underneath your skin or trigger you.

Step 2: Look for patterns. Look at your list of triggers and see if you can pick up patterns of what those people/situations have in common. Write down the patterns.

You can think about the type of personalities, places, circumstances, and stories you have around your triggers. For example, do you mainly get triggered with people who are “selfish” or “mean”? Or do you get triggered in crowded places? Or like me, is it when people “tell you what to do” or make you feel “not good enough”? Find out the conditions that are unique to you and write them down.

This is gold as it will help you better understand when you’re triggered and even sometimes the underlying reasons for it. Once you know this, you can identify it, be better prepared and avoid getting caught off guard.

FYI, don’t worry about getting “all” of them right now, or noticing them perfectly. Just start to pay attention and jot down a few that you notice. Aim for progress, not for perfection.

Step 3: Get clear on the initial warning sign(s). Notice the physical signs that indicate when you are starting to get triggered. You may know exactly what they are, or you may have to pay a little closer attention the next time you’re in a triggering situation.

How does it feel in your body? What sensations do you feel? Make sure to write down exactly what happens.

For me, I had slight tingling and feeling of heat that would start in my head and would spread throughout the rest of my body. It would happen in a matter of seconds, and that was my cue that I’m getting upset and about to lose my temper.

What are yours? Sweaty palms? Feeling your heart drop? Get clear on your initial signs. This is your gateway to having more control.

Step 4: Catch your emotions before they escalate. Once you are able to pinpoint your triggers and your initial warning signs, you can then catch your emotions before they escalate into the full-blown version. I can’t emphasize how important this is!

Once you’re in the full=blown emotion, it’s very difficult, it not impossible, to gain back control. This is why we want to nip it in the bud.

It often helps to name the emotion in the moment. You can do this in your head. For example, you can say “I’m noticing that I’m starting to get “angry”, or “I’m starting to get anxious”.

Step 5: Have a plan ready and make a commitment to it. This is very important! In what way do you want to react in triggering situations so that you’d be proud of yourself? So that you’d feel good about it? Ask yourself, “what do I truly need in that moment?” and “who do I want to be in these situations“. These are powerful questions! Take the time to think about this and write it down. Then make a commitment to yourself to stick to the plan and who you want to be anytime you feel the warning signs of your trigger.

For example, do you need acceptance and love in that moment? Do you need to say or do something? Is it excusing yourself from the situation and picking it back up at a later time?

With trusted people, I tell them when I’m starting to get upset. In situations where I don’t think it’s the best option, I stay neutral and say that I need to think things through and come back to the situation at a later time. I respectfully excuse myself until I’m feeling calm and ready to handle things better. Other times, when I feel my trigger of “not good enough”, I tell myself that I still love and accept myself. I reconnect to myself as the source of everything I need. Because the truth is that our own views towards yourself is more powerful than anyone else’s. I come back to this anytime I’m feeling my emotions start to escalate. It’s amazing how calming and effective your own words and actions towards yourself can be. Specially when you know what you need in those moments. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but gosh… it’s powerful when you practice it!

The most important thing to keep in mind is to decide ahead of time, “what do I truly need?” and “who do I want to be?“. This will lead to less thinking and impulsive behaviour in the moment, and a healthy plan of action that will eventually become your new norm.

One last thing!

There are many things that impact how we deal with difficult situations. I have no doubt that you’ve been through a lot, and you have good reasons for why being calm is not easy for you with certain people or in certain situations. If all of this seems overwhelming, or you just want one take-away from this blog, this is the most important piece: aim for progress not perfection. Be kind and gentle with yourself. We are all human and we’re constantly challenged and dealing with old and new things. Just the fact that you’re reading this blog is a great sign. I want you to acknowledge yourself for searching for better ways to handle situations and know that you’re capable of handling things better, I know that in my core! Just know that this process requires you to be kind and gentle with yourself. No matter how bad your reactions are, or what you’ve done in the past. You got this!

I invite you to practice these 5 steps in the next 30 days. Document the conditions in which you feel overtaken by your emotions and the beginning signs associated with them. Catch your emotions before they escalate and devise a plan of action ready to go for how you will deal with those situations – what will you give yourself and who you choose to be?

Leave a comment below and let me know how things are going! I’d love to hear from you and help in any way I can.

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With lots of love,

Leyla Bagheri
Leyla Bagheri
Founder of LB Well-Being Performance Inc.
Well-Being and Performance Coach
Psychology Research Advisor

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