How to Stay Centered in Stressful Situations

Stress management is a lifelong practice. Whether it’s exercising, eating healthy, or learning to meditate, dealing with stress through a healthy lifestyle works wonders. What about those acute stressful moments though? It could be a fight with a spouse, a difficult conversation at work, backing up into another car, or any number of any “in-the-moment” stressful situations. Along with everyday stress management practices, here is a simple 3 step process you can use next time stress comes on suddenly.

Step 1: Take A Breath

You’ll hear this tip often when it comes to stress management advice, and that’s because it’s a good one. Breathing increases oxygen to the brain, while simultaneously reducing cortisol and raising serotonin levels. The simple act of breathing nourishes your mind, which helps put your brain into a chemically clearer state. Taking even a few deep breaths also gives your mind a moment to catch up with what is happening in your external environment. Acutely stressful situations can come on fast, so allow yourself to process what’s happening.

Step 2: Notice Your Body

When we get stressed, a few things tend to happen with our bodies as we enter into a “fight or flight” mode. At this time, you might find your heart racing, or your palms sweating. You might even feel a little shaky. That is because your body is producing adrenaline, which is normal and worth noticing.

As you feel your body, keep breathing deeply as you try to bring yourself back to a calmer state. Remind yourself with each breath that you are safe, strong, and capable. This is especially useful if you are in a verbal confrontation. Often times, stressful conversations move into hyperspeed, and both people involved don’t get a chance to take a step back. The few seconds you take to breathe and calm your body down also gives the other person a moment to consider the situation.


Step 3: Respond

By providing your body with relief, you have the opportunity to let that quieter, wiser voice in your head become audible again. During stressful situations, the primal fight or flight voice tends to yell from a place of fear, drowning out sense and reason. What is actually happening is that the amygdala (the ancient, fear-center of your brain) is taking over for the prefrontal cortex (the more developed, rational part of your brain). Although that part of your brain is trying to warn you to survive, it is not wise enough to know that you are safe. You are safe, and you are wise.

As your brains chemistry shifts back to normal, chances are you’ll hear a clear and calm response to the situation come up in your head. You’ll know when you hear it because it too will have a calming effect. Something like “I love my wife, and we will work through this, let me tell her that,” or “Okay, I need to write down this car’s license plate.” Start with that first rational action and go from there.

By responding in accordance to that wiser part of yourself, your body will continue to calm down. Try practicing this simple three step process next time unexepected stress pops up in your life.