5 Steps to Self Soothe and Manage Stressful Situations
Practical and Effective Ways to Soothe Yourself During Stressful Situations
“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.”~Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Soothing yourself during stressful situations is an extremely useful skill to have, but it isn’t something that comes naturally! You can try to focus on balanced living and decreasing day to day stress, however things will always come up that you just can’t plan for. And knowing how to keep your cool and manage stress during these times is an invaluable skill.
Stress can affect our personal health, mental health, and emotional health. They way we react to a stressful situation affects us personally, affects us at work, and affects our friends & family. So knowing how to self-soothe and manage stress is imperative for balanced living and wellness!
What are the effects of stress?
When you are triggered by a stressful interaction, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises and you are thrown into a “fight or flight” response. This is a chemical release in your body and naturally we want to defend ourselves. By self-soothing, we are telling our bodies “everything is ok” and that chemical response goes away.
Long term, stress causes physical health problems such as increased cortisol which makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight, increases our blood pressure, and sets us up for chronic medical conditions.
Situations that are constantly causing us stress decrease our mental health and resiliency. We are susceptible to depression, anxiety, and developing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking, smoking, and emotional eating. By self-soothing and managing stress, we promote mental health and balance.
Many aspect of emotional health are linked to our external relationships. If we don’t learn to manage stress, it affects relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. By managing stress, we care for ourselves so that we may give to others….in other words, one of the founding principles of Self Care!
Step #1: Remove Yourself from the Situation
Your boss adds yet another task to your day. A car pulls out in front of you. Someone replies with a rude comment in an email or on social media. You instantly feel the blood rising to your face and you just want to scream! “He’s so narcissistic! That idiot! What a jerk!” This is the millisecond that you face the fork in the road: one option is to act out all of the things that you are thinking. The other option is to keep your reply to a minimum and remove yourself from the situation/trigger.
This could be the most important milliseconds of your day. And your actions could have consequences that affect more than just the next few moments. I recently ran a Trauma in the Emergency Department. A guy was cut off as he was driving his kids to soccer practice. He followed the car into a parking lot, furious. As he approached the window of the driver of the other vehicle, yelling and screaming, he was met with a gunshot to the face.
You have a choice. Choose to remove yourself from the situation first before you act.
Step #2: Breathe
Ok. You are away from the trigger. The next step is to decrease your heart rate and manage the adrenaline rush.
- Close your eyes
- Take a slow breath in for a 5-count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Feel the air filling your lungs and slowing your heart rate.
- Relax your shoulders and blow the air out for a 3-count. 3, 2, 1.
- Repeat this as many times as it takes to feel yourself relaxing. This should only take a few minutes.
This step is important to be able to approach the situation rationally and respond with logic rather than emotion. It doesn’t mean that you are just going to “take it.” It means that you are going to respond with control.
Step #3: Analyze the Situation
What happened? What exactly was said? Why did it upset you? Are there other things going on in your life that made you more “on edge?” Analyze the situation and figure out why it created stress. This may take more time than you have at that moment. You may want to run it by a trusted friend to get their input. But don’t just ignore it. This step allows you to process the situation. It is important because you identify triggers and may even be able to make changes to prevent the trigger in the future!
This is also a good time to play the “what could happen” game. What could happen if I yell at my boss? If I follow that driver? What about if I start a fight on social media or via email? If the possible consequences are something that could potentially cause you ongoing stress or “badness” in your life, it’s probably best to hold any action until you have a plan.
Step #4 Evaluate both sides
From a psychological standpoint, we want to believe that we are good people. So when something happens that threatens that belief, we become defensive. And that makes sense! However, we are not perfect. There are times that something happens that actually highlights one of our weaknesses. And though the way that it was communicated, or the event that upset you was difficult, it is part of growing and becoming a better version of yourself.
Step 4 can only happen when you are calm and thinking about things logically. Your conclusion may be that the other party was completely in the wrong. And that is helpful! Or you may realize that there was a bit of truth to the interaction. Or that you overreacted. But it is only by analyzing both sides of the situation that you can receive clarity and move on to the next step!
Step #5 Make a Plan for Resolution
So you have removed yourself from the situation, have calmed the “fight or flight” response by breathing, and you have evaluated the situation by analyzing it and considering both sides. Now it’s time for a plan.
This could be as simple as calmly communicating with the other person about the way that their comment made you feel. Or suggestions for change in the future. You could ask for clarification on tasks and expectations at your job. Or you can choose to let things go, realizing that others may be going through something in their own life that you didn’t know about.
To close the loop on the story above about the Trauma case….the man in the car who shot the gun was 79 years old. He had lost his wife within the past year and was living alone. His house had been robbed the week prior and he was on his way to a support group to deal with his loss, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness and fear.
The good news is that practicing these steps help you manage stress in all areas of your life. You can identify, prevent, and deal with stressful triggers. This also improves your interactions with your friends, family, and coworkers. Stress management also improves your long term mental, physical, and emotional health.
As with much of Self Care, this takes time, practice, and support. If you find that you are having a difficult time with stress management or a quick, angry response, seek professional help. Many of my clients that came to me with a “short fuse” found that the stress triggers were often much deeper than the triggering-events themselves. It is through self discovery that change begins. Start living your best life today.