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Choose Calm and Carry On
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2014

When we are in a long line that isn't moving, stuck in traffic, or in a waiting room, watching the hours "fly" by, it can be helpful to notice our immediate reaction. Do we stay calm, feel "our blood boil" as we blame someone, or begin cursing our (bad) luck?

Part of our reaction is due to our "nature", and part is what we have "learned" to do, often from watching others in a similar situation.

Some of us are more anxious than others when something unexpectedly disappointing happens. We immediately react by going into a "terror" response - in addition to seeing how inconvenienced we are, how unhappy we are, how "stupid" the person responsible for this is, everything awful that could happen as a result of this disappointment or inconvenience flashes before our eyes (and courses through our body). It is at this point where we have a choice to calm ourselves and look at the situation differently. We can recognize what is happening, as well as "process", and say to ourselves: "I've been here before. What can I do that will be HELPFUL?" The key is to stay mindful in this present situation.

Some of us, generally those of us who are more optimistic by nature, look towards possibility. Instead of focusing on what is SURE to be a terrible outcome, we begin to see there is a way out that is positive. We wrap our minds around making that happen.

So, if we aren't one of the optimists sailing through life, how can we manage to calm ourselves down when we lose our cellphone or encounter a delayed flight after we have broken all records racing to the airport? We can begin with focusing on our breath. Rather than chastising ourselves for misplacing something, we can get out of "panic" mode by breathing deeply, thus reducing our momentary stress. This gives us space to move into "problem-solving" mode. A stressed mind won't keep us in the present situation. It keeps us in the fear and worried and regret mode. It prevents us from seeing and exploring alternative solutions that are responsible and safe. If our flight is delayed due to a storm, and no flights are leaving the airport, there may not be much we can do about that. But we can choose how we interpret the situation and what our attitude will be as we do the inevitable -- wait for another flight. We can seize the opportunity to listen to a podcast, catch up on e-mails; call a friend and have a long overdue conversation; breathe deeply to help slow down our physical body to get out of that high-stress place in our mind and our body.

What is important is to remember that we have a choice.

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