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10 tools to calm ourselves

 

Let's review the tools we have explored to become less reactive and to develop emotional and mental balance.

Here they are, available as always, in the Daily Wisdom archives

#1 Aim for mental and emotional balance
#2 Develop a mantra
#3 Be like Teflon
#3 Live in a bubble
#4 Don't take it personally
#5 Be an observer
#6 Have an inner smile
#7 Expand your awareness
#8 Notice the gift of the rain puddle
#9 Seek understanding and be curious
#10 Meditate, even a little

Which have you tried? Which ones are working for you?

Do you have others? If so, do share!

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Meditate, even a little

We cannot really talk about calming down and developing emotional balance without mentioning meditation. So today's practice to develop equanimity is: Learn to meditate, even just a little.

Meditation means so many different things to different people and it is such a deep topic that we won't get into details here, but the essence of meditation is training your mind and your attention, disentangling it from thoughts and emotions and observing one's experience as it happens.

Taking just a few minutes a day to become silence, look inward and tune into what is happening in our internal world can foster peace of mind and the perspective needed for equanimity.

Meditation works best if it is consistently practiced in small doses over time. Think of it like a vitamin and not a Tylenol. Just like a vitamin can increase physical wellbeing and immunity over time, meditation gradually increases emotional wellbeing and stamina.

Meditation practiced consistently over time reprograms our brains...

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Be curious

When someone triggers you, it is easy to slip into judgment, getting on a moralistic high horse, making them the villain of the interaction and yourself the victim.

An effective way to switch out from this (downward) spiral of thinking is to get curious.

Get curious about what in their life or environment could be causing them to act out in this manner.

It is easier to deal with someone's behaviour when you become curious and seek understanding about what could be going on for them.

For bonus points (towards self empowerment and happiness) allow yourself to feel compassion for them. . .

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Expand your awareness

One of the hallmarks of emotional reactivity is that it causes us to have tunnel vision.

When we are in the midst of a reacting to a trigger, our entire attention is focused on the cause of the irritation and upset. As a result of this, we fail to notice everything that is beautiful and good around us.

While there are solid biological reasons for this reaction when we are in the midst of a true life and death situation and need to focus our attention on the threat, this kind of reaction does not serve us well in the vast majority of triggers and upsets that we face in our daily lives. It simply causes us to lose perspective and become reactive.

One of the ways to develop mental and emotional balance is to intentionally expand our awareness to include what is going right around us. When we do this, by definition we put the problem or the irritant in its rightful place.

Expanding our focus is NOT about denying what is bothering us or not dealing with it. It is about having a realistic...

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Have an inner smile

Do you find yourself taking yourself too seriously sometimes? Striving too hard and losing your sense of humour and your perspective?

When this happens, we lose a sense of lightness and joy and fail to appreciate the beauty that is this life.

Having an inner smile means that we greet our experience with kindness, openness and a sense of wonder. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "You need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow."

Holding an inner smile also reminds us to keep a sense of humor and avoid being too hard on ourselves.

Maintaining an inner smile involves intentionally and gently smiling to yourself. It is more of an inner experience than an outward gesture. Of course, it may spill out from your heart onto your lips, and if it does, so much the better!

Let this smile remind you not to strive too hard or to criticize yourself. Allow it make your thoughts, words, and deeds more gentle and accepting. You may begin to notice how human beings can be rather amusing...

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Be an observer

Social science researchers spend a fair bit of time people watching: observing how people behave and interact with each other teaches them a great deal about human behaviour and relationships even without saying a single word to them.

It can be very easy to see for example, if one spouse in a couple is making attempts to connect with the other spouse who may be distracted by their smart phone. While the other is distracted, observers may be able to notice just a hint of sadness when their bid for connection goes unanswered. While the distracted spouse may not understand why their spouse seems distant and upset for the rest of the evening, the observers can better understand the dynamic from their observations.

It is not difficult to see such interactions in others and understand what is going on. It is much more challenging to become an observer of ourselves in this way and it is a very effective way to develop equanimity.

Try this fun exercise: imagine yourself leaving your body,...

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Live in a bubble

There are times when we know we are heading towards a situation which will test our emotional balance. We have been in this situation many times before and we often end up getting hooked and triggered in ways which are the opposite of mindful.

When we are knowingly heading towards a situation like that, it is time to conjure up a protective bubble around ourselves.

Here's how: Take a few moments before you are entering this situation and imagine energy circling around you and creating a transparent, protective bubble. The bubble is thick and protective (verbal bullet-proof!) but completely transparent so only you know that you are inside it.

Allow yourself to enhance the protective qualities of the bubble by endowing it with all the positive energies you desire while deflecting negative energies and comments so that they cannot impact you or touch you.

Feel free to watch with amusement as the negative comments and energies bounce back without impacting you or disturbing your...

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Develop a mantra

A highly effective way to practice equanimity is to talk to ourselves in the third person. In this process we become our own coaches for the moment and talk ourselves through the situation.

It is fun to come up with a creative mantra that we can use as a signal to calm down.

When I find myself getting triggered, I imagine a big hook waiting to hook me into a predictable and familiar overreaction. A reaction that will most surely cause me to regret what I say. I then remind myself:

"Come on Marzia, remember to 'engage brain before operating mouth'".

Using your first name in the 3rd person in this way is a highly effective way to remind yourself of your values and coach yourself through a situation which would usually trigger you.

So go on, develop a mantra or two for yourself to help you when you find yourself getting triggered.

Here is a really good example (a 9 min video clip):

 

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How do we develop equanimity?

As we said, Equanimity means to keep cool even in difficult situations and not get triggered in response to what others say or do.

Keeping cool does appear to come naturally to some people. For most of us though, it takes intentionality and practice. The good news however, is that it is a learnable skill. We can learn how to respond to others based on our values rather than react angrily to something they said that triggers us.

How do we develop equanimity?

The first step is to recognize and understand the concept itself.

When someone pushes our buttons or triggers us, there are several physiological signals that tell us that we getting triggered and in danger of reacting. Our breathing becomes more shallow, the heart begins to race, we may begin to feel a build up of tension in our muscles (especially in the hands, the neck and shoulders), we might feel pressure building up behind our eyes, or in our temples.

All these are the body's signal that it is going into fight or flight...

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What emotional reactivity looks like

We have been talking about emotional reactivity in communication and the opposite of reactivity which is equanimity.

Before we talk about how to develop equanimity, let's get clear on recognizing reactivity.

Sometimes we think that if we are not screaming or shouting and we look calm, we are not reacting. But our calm surface might be covering up an internal storm. This is not equanimity.

Looking calm and being calm are two very different emotional states.

Emotional reactivity is as much about what is happening internally than it is what appears on the outside.

If we are having negative thoughts and ruminating about what someone has said, we may be internalizing or "imploding" rather than exploding which is equally unhealthy. Equanimity is not about gritting your teeth and bearing it.

If we shutdown or stonewall during a stressful conversation, we are anything but calm. We are using emotional distance as a way of managing our reactivity which will hurt us and our relationships.

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