6 Habits To Help Keep Calm In Stressful Times

Simple And Powerful Habits For A Calm, Open Mind

As a team leader and supervisor right now you are faced with a whole barrage of new and undoubtedly unsettling ways of operating and being. Trying to keep everyone safe. Keeping the business and the economy going. Trying to formulate plans in a changing environment for an uncertain future. Working remotely, keeping your team engaged. Working from a shared home office. Dealing with new and intense family stresses, all of us being trapped in a small space.

The ways many of us cope is by trying to work harder, accomplish more, power through. We believe in the exclusive power of our mental processes. We drink coffee to speed our thinking up, eat energy bars to keep us going. We try to reason ourselves out of our baser fears and insecurities. We pay no attention to our bodies, we navigate a completely imaginary universe. Our bodies take the strain, being left behind while mental pull goes into the future, trying to move faster and faster. At the end of the day, we are exhausted, stressed, irritated, overburdened.

Staying Calm And Open Can Help Us Evolve Through Challenges More Easily

Evolutionary theory teaches us that we grow in stressful times. In my experience, we can grow in 2 ways. We can grow a little and fight it all the way. We can spend our days in resisting the situation and wishing it was different. It will still stretch us, but minimally. Or, we can allow our full emotional and physical experience, and observe and learn. We let our old ways drop away as they no longer serve and invite the new. In this way, we can grow by leaps and bounds, and it’s not painful, but intensely joyful instead.

In order to choose the second way, we have to commit to growing ourselves. We have to recognize our stress, allow it to exist, and then work with it. Any change in how we feel about the challenges of our lives can only start once we recognize that we are unsettled, and believe that we can do something to change this.

The following 6 habits will support you in releasing your stress and allowing your mind to remain open and calm in stressful times. The more you practice any one of these, the easier your personal evolution will be.

6 Habits To Keep A Calm And Open Mind In Stressful Times

1. Take A Wider Perspective

Know that the situation is impermanent. It will pass. As you go along with it, every day will once again become more familiar. Expand your awareness of space as well as in time. This also allows you to consider a wider range of possible action plans.

I know this is difficult when you are in the middle of a stressful moment.

The other 5 habits will aid in reminding you.

2. Develop Curiosity

Create a habit of saying: “Fascinating!” whenever you are faced with a difficult situation. This indicates a willingness to allow the situation to be what it needs to be. Whatever it is that faces you, it is already that, and to mentally or loudly argue with it serves only to increase your stress. Calling it "fascinating" creates an openness, a space around the situation. You will often find that this simple act allows it to play out more easily.

Now is the moment to create habits of mindfulness and positive intent in your life. Once again this sounds like a tall order amid chaos, yet it is never needed as much as right now. Being honest, would you have the motivation during times of peace and comfort to implement these habits? Why change, when all is going well? Use the increased energy of anxiety and stress to implement positive and supportive habits now. This opportunity is one of the gifts that a crisis brings.

3. Conscious Breath

Make a habit to breathe consciously every day a few times. Maybe even every hour for 1 or 2 minutes. Set a reminder on your computer, then watch how your mind argues that you don’t have the time right now to—what—breathe for 1 minute. Be genuinely astonished at the insanity of a normal human mind under everyday stress. And then, take those 2 minutes to breathe. Inhalation energizes the body, exhalation relaxes. If you breathe slowly, 2 minutes are 10-14 breath cycles. See if you can stay aware of your breath. This trains your focus and disengages from accumulated stress of the last hour.

If this feels really good, you could extend the awareness for a 5-10 minute session of becoming conscious of your body. This relaxes even more. You’ll feel your shoulders relax, your breath deepens, your headache lessens, your mental speed slows down. If you pay attention you will even notice your vision getting clearer. You will have more time, energy, and more appreciation for yourself and the people around you.

4. Yoga Nidra

A Yoga Nidra is a full-body scan or relaxation. It's very easy and simple. Get comfortable in your chair. Maybe wriggle a bit, sit up straighter, uncross your legs if you like. Become aware of your body position and straighten it out.

Take a deep breath or two. Close your eyes, or keep them in soft vision (unfocused, not on a screen or on work). Move your attention to your feet. Feel the feet, allow yourself to feel the sensation of feet without looking at them, inside and out. Move your awareness slowly up your legs, hips, abdomen, shoulders, arms, hands, neck and throat, face and head. Take another deep breath, and become aware of your whole body. Breath, body. Breath, body.
Move awareness to chair, floor, room; open your eyes, be present. Return to work.

If you have any trouble sleeping, be that going to sleep, tossing and turning, or waking up frequently, the Yoga Nidra is a powerful aid. Do the full-body scan mentally as you lie down in bed. To begin with, you could listen to a recording to make sure you don’t lose focus. The mind has a habit to get lost in tangents. Make the Yoga Nidra your new habit every night. Eventually, you’ll go to sleep the moment you become aware of the knees, and you’ll enjoy deep sleep and restful nights.

5. Journaling

Start paying attention to the specific thoughts that stress you out personally. Most likely they are recurring, underlying fears about the future, about your own and others’ performance, and the wellbeing of your loved ones. When you start listening to your mind you’ll find that specific themes are persistently re-enacted. Write them down.

The practice of journaling increases your self-awareness and your emotional intelligence. Thoughts that are written on paper (or screen) tend to calm down somewhat. As we see them written out they are no longer at the edge of our awareness and can be dealt with a little more rationally. Journaling can be a powerful practice of self-awareness. It can support your creativity and open-mindedness.

6. Inquiry

When you have a practice of being aware of your thoughts you can bring them to Inquiry. Inquiry allows you to question the stressful thoughts deeply. This loosens the emotional attachment to the thought and its background story, and it can let go of you. It literally becomes less frightening. Inquiry (The Work Of Byron Katie) is nothing more than 4 questions applied to a specific stressful thought. We investigate our truth and find how we experience life with the thought and without it. After the questions we turn the thought around to its opposites, then find real-life examples for how these new statements could be as true for us. In this way, our mind is re-educated to the nature and true cause of our stress. We begin to see the gifts in the crisis much more readily.

Contemplating the common economic situation after COVID-19, a common thought in uncertain times like these could be:

“I will lose my job.”
(And you can substitute any other thought for this one.)

  • Question 1: Is it true?
    Answer to question 1 would be "Yes" or "No" only, and notice how your mind would like to reason, argue and justify.
  • Question 2: Can I absolutely know this is true?
    The same question with a slightly different emphasis. Again, limit your answer to "Yes" or "No" only.
  • Question 3: How do I react; what happens when I believe this thought?
    Explore your inner world. What other thoughts come along with this one? Which story is created? Explore your emotions connected to that thought. Notice how your body feels when it’s awash with the emotions, or maybe trying not to feel them if they are uncomfortable.
    How do you treat others when you believe this thought—your boss, colleagues, your family, and friends? How do you treat yourself? Are you open, honest, interested; or are you fearful, closed, hiding, trying to cope?
  • Question 4: Who would you be in the same situation without this thought?
    Imagine a reality where this fearful concept just wasn’t there. Don’t try to drop the thought, that is not possible. Just imagine a different reality at this moment. Who would you be without this thought?

Turnarounds are literal opposites to the original statement. The 3 basic turnarounds would be to the opposite, the other and the self.

  • “I will not lose my job.”
    Find 3 or more examples of how this could be as true as the original statement. I could see that it is at least as possible as losing my job, for now. What are the other examples?
  • “My job will lose me.”
    Possible as well—I might get sick, I might find another, better opportunity and change jobs. Things are shifting. How else could it be true?
  • “I will lose myself.”
    As I’m lost in a fearful story of the future I have lost the connection to me in the present moment. How else could you lose yourself in this?

Inquiry is a powerful way of educating our minds to be open and fearless. Investigating the truth of our thoughts we find that we are scaring ourselves with the shadows of our imagination. And there isn’t really anything wrong with that as long as we don’t believe it to be real.

Being awake to the truth of these fears, we can make bold yet realistic and informed decisions. We can look up and about and see more possibilities of action. We can be compassionate for other peoples’ stress because we are centered. We can lead effectively and teach being peaceful and empowered. We find that even in the most challenging situations our mind’s agitation does not serve us. We find that keeping a calm and open mind during the situations that were once stressful is an utterly joyful, kind, compassionate and incredibly effective way to be.