Clients often tell me they notice themselves having an emotional outburst without even knowing how they got into that state. I tell them what they are not noticing is that their emotional and physical reactions almost always precede their thinking.
Our bodies are aware of stress or threats before we even know it! The trick is to calm yourself down before you “know” you are upset. That may sound crazy, but you can do it. All you need to do is pay attention to what is happening right now. Here are some ideas to help get you started:
1. Become aware of what your body is doing. Notice if you are feeling tension somewhere in your body. Or perhaps your heart is racing. (Feel your pulse to confirm.)
2. Take steps to calm yourself. Practice deep breathing, focusing on what your body feels like as you inhale and – especially – as you exhale. The act of exhaling slowly actually relaxes your body! If you are in an argument with a loved one, tell them you need a few minutes to gather your thoughts and walk away to a neutral place.
3. Practice mindfulness. This will distract you from the stress. Try to intentionally focus on something in your immediate area – a sight, sound, or smell, for example. Or try simple word games in your head (“Blue has 4 letters. There are 4 seasons.”)
Once you can calm your body, your thinking can catch up with it and make the right decision. And remember, the more you practice these things the better you will get at them!