How to Stay Calm in Frustrating and Stressful Situations

angry-and-frustrated-person-2I’ve always been impatient. For a great deal of my life and especially when faced with difficult or frustrating situations, I’d lose my temper.

I always seemed to be surrounded by people capable of provoking the worst in me. How they managed to do that, almost naturally, without too much trouble, was a mystery to me.

But they did.

I often found it difficult to manage my work along with my other responsibilities.

I used to experience difficulties everywhere: at home, taking care of the kids, ensuring that my partner doesn’t feel neglected, and doing the dozens of things you have to do day after day.

And I’m not trying to make any excuses here.

Most of the time I wasn’t able to avoid tense situations, even if I wanted to. Leaving the scene has never been an option for me either.

And sooner or latter an outburst would happen.

Even when I was trying to be calm and to be at peace with myself and with my loved ones, things were starting to get complicated really fast.

And that was happening seemingly out of thin air.

It was amazing to me how quickly I could move from relative calmness to frustration. In addition, there were situations when tension was mounting slowly, step by step.

I’m unable to say which type of situation are more difficult to deal with. They both are equally difficult.

What I wasn’t aware so many times in the past is that each time such a situation occurred, I was reinforcing negativity on a subconscious level.

It’s as if I was practicing to be negative over and over again, developing this unwanted skill, one that was so limiting for me personally and for my family as well.

Throughout the years I tried a lot of things, including coaching, behavioral therapy, and anger management. These are methods that for sure have helped a lot of people, but in my case they simply didn’t work.

Before presenting some of the tips and tactics I found useful to cope with my problem, let’s see how stress can make things even worse.

Stress Can Make Frustration Even Worse

Because, we are all under a lot of stress all the time.

The funny part is most of the time I was unaware of the stress I was experiencing, because it was lingering underneath the surface.

This type of stress is often referred to as chronic stress.

It’s the kind of stress you might experience as a constant nagging feeling lasting long periods of time. You might forget about it, but it’s always there.

The other type, acute stress, is something we can deal with more easily.

It happens abruptly, only once in a while, for example, when you are chased by a wild animal (I know, it’s a silly example), or in similar situations.

And believe it or not our body is genetically predisposed to handle acute stress relatively well. But not so well the other type, chronic stress…

The body reacts negatively to stress.

Sadly but true, the stress I’d been experiencing was adding up to every potential frustrating situation I found myself in.

The point being, if you have a lot of chronic stressors, they only make things worse.

These stressors (things that cause stress) might include, for example, persistent problems in your relationships, work pressure, financial problems, or long-term health issues.

If your nervous system is in a state of high alert, just a little external stress or even a small frustration can become the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

It is therefore, of great importance to develop a routine to slow down and calm yourself down in such situations.

Before moving to some practical tips on overcoming frustration, there is a nice story that illustrates that sometimes it could be enough to just wait and do nothing to calm down:

Once Buddha was walking with a few of his students from one town to another. In their journey, they happened to pass near a lake. Suddenly Buddha interrupted one of his students and told him, “I am thirsty. Would you mind getting me water from that lake.”

The student happily went to obey his master. When he reached the lake, he noticed that a bullock cart was crossing the lake, making the water very muddy.  The student thought, “There’s no way I can  give this spoiled water to Buddha!”

So the disciple returned and told his master, “The water is very muddy. It’s not fit to drink.” Half an hour went through, and once again Buddha asked the same student to fetch him some water from the lake. The student went back to collect some water.

To his disappointment, he found the water muddy again. He informed Buddha about his finding. After another half hour, Buddha sent the same student to go to the lake again. This time, however, the water was absolutely clean and fit for drinking because the mud had settled down. After collecting some water, the student returned with it to Buddha.

Buddha looked at the pure water, and then at the disciple and asked, “Can you tell me what you did to make this water clean?” The student said: “I did nothing.”. Buddha continued: “Exactly, you let it be. The mud settled down on its own. Your mind is just like lake! When disturbed, just let your mind be. Give it some time, and it will settle down on its own. You need no effort. You don’t have to put in effort to calm it down. It will happen effortlessly.”

Which brings me to the list of practical tips I found useful and hopefully you would too.

Practical Tips on Overcoming Frustrating Situations

Tip #1: Listen to Your Body

The first step to managing a potential stressful situation is to recognize it.

I found it very useful when I could identify the emotional state I was in. As soon as possible. Don’t wait the situation to get worse.

Whenever I was able to react on time, it was usually OK.

You must make an effort to stop the pressure from building up. It’s not easy to do this, because when you are overwhelmed, the body sends conflicting signals. Take a moment off and shift your focus on the body trying to recognize what’s happening and what kind of sensations are present there.

Tip #2: Pay Attention to the Threshold Level

In every frustrating situation, there’s a threshold beyond which there’s no return.

Try not to cross it.

From that threshold on, things can get only worse. If you stay inactive and let your anger and irritation take over, it will be tough to calm yourself, and the situation will escalate.

Tip #3: Calm Your Breathing

A great way to calm when you feel tense is taking control of your breathing.

When you are frustrated, you are increasingly worried about a problem or an issue that has cropped up.

Don’t do that! Rather, take control of your breathing.

Yogis have known for centuries that our state of mind is deeply connected to the way we breathe. If we calm the breath, we can calm the mind. Or the other way around, when the mind is restless our breath is shallow and rapid and contributes to the state of anxiety.

So take a few deep breaths right on the spot, or, if needed, do the following exercise.

Tip #4: Try Deep Breathing Pranayama

Pranayama is a yogic technique of rhythmic breathing. I’ve been practicing it for years and it has virtually changed my life.

There are numerous pranayamas, but for starters, here’s a simple but effective one:

Find a quiet place for yourself, sit down and focus on your body.

Take deep, long breaths from the diaphragm. Inhale slowly, through the nose, for a count of three, hold your breath for a count of two, and then exhale from the nose, with a count of six.

The exhaling should take longer than inhaling. Practice deep breathing as often as you can. That will help you energize, replenish your body, and manage particularly stressful situations.

Tip #5: Exercise Regularly

Most of us give up exercise when under a lot of mental stress.

Don’t allow stress to be an excuse to disturb your workout routine.

Make time for exercise even if you are extremely busy. Just go for a 30-minute walk in the morning, regardless of how busy you’re going to be in the rest of the day. If you are at the office, take time off from work for a few minutes and just go up and down the stairs for a while.

Exercise releases feel good hormones called endorphins in the brain (there are also other natural ways you can use to boost the concentration of endorphins in your body). This calms you down and relaxes you, even when you’re under the greatest of stress.

Tip #6 Never Binge on Food

When you’re in a frustrating situation, there will be a temptation to treat yourself to an indulgence, whether it is to grab an unhealthy meal at a fast food restaurant or to have a chocolate cake.

Junk foods or any food that has sugar in it, spike up your blood sugar levels. They actually make your stress worse, instead of providing any relief. Instead, having something healthy, such as an avocado or a green smoothie when you are under a lot of stress and feel like wanting to eat something to calm down. Carrots are good too, as is dark chocolate (the less sugar there is the better).

Tip #7: Call a Sibling or a Friend

When you feel like you are neck deep in water because of the pressure building up around you, call a friend or a sibling, and ask them to meet you at a nearby Starbucks.

Talk to them about the good times, share a good laugh and gossip about a mutual friend or acquaintance.

Yes, talk to them about what’s bothering you and seek their opinion. Perhaps you need a fresh perspective on your problems from a well wisher.

Tip #8: Take a Walk

Just get out of the office or your house when you are under stress. Go for a relaxing walk.

Breathe in the fresh air from the outside.

Is there a garden nearby? Just stop, and smell the flowers. That will clear up your mind instantly, and you will be able to think through your issues more objectively.

Tip #8: Face the Stress

Instead of walking away from the frustration to cool down, face the stress directly.

How you do that?

Just visualize all the negative energy going through you and out, leaving you calm and peaceful. It’s a matter of programming your mind to reach with a positive mental attitude to a negative situation. If you walk away, you just prolong the agony without addressing the core issues.

Tip #9: Feel Love.

Love is a great way to deal with frustration. If you feel that you are getting angry at a person or situation, turn the table around and invoke the feeling of love instead.

If at that point you find it impossible to love the person you are frustrated with, imagine a relative, loved one, even your cute little pet.

The important part is to start to feel love. It will instantly melt down any negative emotion you might’ve started developing.

Once you’ve started to feel love, it’s time to send some of that love to the person you’re dealing with. Just extend some of your positive feelings to them. If you can, feel the harmony and connection between the two of you.

Nothing heals a potentially frustrating situation like love.

All there is is love. Tension, confusion, and all possible types of ego-based conflicts are just an illusion. To improve your ability for love and compassion, check this guide.

Tip #10: Accept Criticism

There’s no conflicting situation where only one side should be carrying all the blame. So, do your best to accept criticism.

If you can accept it all, accept at least a tiny bit of the criticism.

If you do that, (it’s hard I know) you won’t feel great.

I also know that you might feel hurt, but if you manage to overcome these feelings, at the end of this short period of crisis, you will feel empowered.

Whenever I manage not to react impulsively, and if I don’t get into an argument, I cut the problem off at its root.

Whenever I gracefully accept criticism, I’m effectively and instantly neutralizing all the tension and frustration.

Ted Talk on How to Stay Calm When Stressed

In his TED talk, Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, provides some useful tips on what happens when under a stress and how to stay calm in such situation. The key biological feature seems to be that our brain is used to release cortisol when stressed, which in turn, inhibits logical rational thinking. This might be useful if chased by a lion, but otherwise, it only clouds our thinking.



Tips to Take Away With You

  • Reacting furiously takes almost no effort from your part. It’s easy but devastating.
  • Restraining the lower impulses of your nature does take a lot of effort and composure. It’s hard but marvelous.
  • The first time you try to apply one of the above techniques in practice is the hardest. It is also the most gratifying when you do.
  • Each time you get through a tense situation, you are being rewarded with more confidence and self esteem.
  • Once applied successfully, these techniques are much easier to repeat the next time you are in a difficult situation.

I can promise you this much:

  • If you are devoted to improving yourself, in due time (time here usually means decades) you will become an expert.
  • You will be able to see and understand the root causes of your frustration.
  • You will be so firmly rooted in your peaceful self that nothing will be able to disturb your harmonious and healthy inner state of love and understanding.

These are just some ideas on dealing with stress, tension, and frustration. I hope you like the advice given here, but you probably have your own ways of keeping calm under pressure.

I’d love to hear about them, so please do share your thoughts with me!

About Vali Soki

Vali Soki is a is the editor in chief at EternityofSpirit website.

Filed under: Blog Posts, Personal Growth