Life is crazy. Can you stay calm? In the song, The Eye, Brandi Carli sings “You can dance in a hurricane but only if you’re standing in the eye.”
Have you ever been in the eye of the hurricane? I was living in south Florida when the category 3 hurricane named Wilma hit the peninsula.
After hours of being pummeled with the worst wind and rain I had ever experienced, it stopped. We exited our shuttered home to see clear blue skies.
It was eerily quiet as there were no birds or planes in the sky – and no cars driving on the street. We were in the eye of the storm.
When I’m speaking at conferences and companies about stress management, I use the example of this calm in the eye of the storm as an analogy for stress resilience.
All of us have undoubtedly experienced times when the chaos of life swirls around us like a hurricane. And, this stress results in loss of sleep, poor eating choices, more errors and accidents, and an increased risk of elevated blood glucose and blood pressure.
But with practice we can develop more resilience to stress, where we experience a bit more calm – like in the eye of a hurricane. Here are some proven strategies:
Opt for Optimism
Optimists tend to stay calmer in stressful situations, as evidenced by lower levels of stress hormones in their blood. Just as a glass “half full” is the same as a glass “half empty”, optimism isn’t about changing the situation. It’s simply about interpreting the same situation in a more positive light.
The good news is, if you’re not naturally optimistic, it is a skill that can be learned. Dr. Martin Seligman, the author of Learned Optimism, states that while pessimists interpret bad things as “permanent, universal, and internal”, optimists look at these same situations as “temporary, specific,
Let’s take a real-life example. Back in the 1990’s, our home (and 10,000 others in Houston), was flooded from a rain storm. A pessimist might say, “Why do I get all the bad luck? I should never have bought this house.”
An optimist might look at the same situation in a more temporary light, such as, “Well, at least we’re all safe. I was thinking about cleaning things out, and this forces me to do it now. We’ll get through this.” Same situation, but choosing optimism produces less stress.
When your body perceives a stressful situation, it releases the hormone adrenaline which increase your pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate to get more oxygen to the body’s cells that need it. Next, the hormone, cortisol, helps to release glucose and fat to fuel the body’s reaction.
This stress response is often referred to as “fight or flight” because those hormones set the body up to fight or run away from the threat. All this is good if we really need to run away or fight. But, most of today’s stress comes from situations that don’t require a physical response.
In fact, the stress response leaves us feeling fuzzy headed and fatigued. Exhausted. When you’re in a stressful situation, consciously focus on taking some slow, deep breaths. That simple act can counter the stress response – lowering your breathing, pulse, and blood pressure.
Use whatever tools work, but I recommend trying music, mantras, and meditation. Read more about these here.
We know of the health benefits of getting 30-45 minutes of exercise on most days. But, did you know that short spurts of exercise count towards that goal? And, that frequent spurts of movement during the day can also help you manage stress?
Instead of reaching for a cigarette or snack when you’re feeling stressed, try a 10-minute walk, jumping jacks, or jump rope. Try running up a few flights of stairs – or any other activity to helps you to release those stress hormones. You might even find that it clears your head, allowing you to come up with solutions for your stress.
Remember, stress isn’t what happens to us, but how we react to what happens to us. With a few healthy choices, it’s possible to better manage our stress…so we can feel more calm as the chaos of life swirls around us.