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Monday, October 13, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

"You are the sky.  Everything else--it's just the weather:" Pema Chodron

Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

The ability to stay calm during chaotic times is a natural ability for some people who seem to be able to stay focused and centered despite the chaos that is going on around them.

For other people, it's a matter of developing and practicing this skill.

Staying Calm When You're in the Middle of Chaos

The good news is that this skill can be learned by most people, and practicing can increase your ability to use this skill.

Ideally, the best time to learn to develop the ability to stay calm during stressful times is when things are relatively calm in your life.

But it doesn't always happen that way, so here are some tips for how to stay calm during chaotic or stressful times:

Tips for Staying Calm During Chaos
  • Remember to Breathe:  This might sound strange, but it's often the case that when we're under stress or pressure, our breathing becomes shallow, and some people don't realize that they've stopped breathing for seconds at a time.  Also, breathing in a shallow way can make you more anxious.  So, remembering to take a couple of deep breaths can be very helpful (also see my article:  Learning to Relax: Square Breathing).
  • Take Breaks:  Often when we're going through chaotic or stressful times, we think that it's better to keep going nonstop. But making yourself exhausted will only add to your stress.  If you're not in a situation that's an emergency that requires immediate action (like leaving a burning building), it's important to take breaks--even if the breaks are 5 or 10 minutes.  Taking time to regroup can help you to approach the situation feeling refreshed.
  • Stop and Think:  Rather than leaping into action impulsively and working yourself and others into a panic, stop and think, even if it's for a moment, about what's needed in this situation.  Certain situations require immediate action, but many situations would be better handled by reflecting first on what's needed before taking action hastily.  
  • Recognize What You Can and Can't Control:  This isn't always easy to see.  But when it's clear that there are elements of the situation that are beyond your control, don't waste your time and effort on things that you can't change.  Try to solve what you can as efficiently and effectively as you can, and leave the bigger issues to those who are equipped and responsible for handling them.
  • Maintain a Balanced Perspective:  This suggestion goes along with Stop and Think.  During a chaotic situation, it's easy to lose perspective and panic.  Many people, who lose their perspective, end up making the wrong decisions and that makes the situation worse.  By keeping your perspective and asking yourself how you (and those close to you) are directly affected by the situation, you can approach the problem with a clear mind and make better decisions.
  • Maintain Your Healthy Routines:  Some people become so consumed with problem solving or "putting out fires" during chaotic times that they abandon the healthy routines that help them to cope.  Although you might need to modify your routines during stressful times (depending upon what's going on), you can make your situation even more stressful if you completely abandon the healthy routines that help you on a regular basis, like going to the gym, meditating or whatever you do to maintain a sense of well-being.
  • Maintain a Healthy Attitude:  Your perspective about life and situations at hand affect how you think and feel about these situations as well as how you react to them.  It's important to be able to take a step back, even if it's momentarily, to be mindful of how you're responding to the situation that you're dealing with at the time.  If you know yourself well enough to know that you tend to see "the glass as half empty" rather than "half full" most of the time, ask yourself if this attitude is affecting how you're dealing with the problem that you're facing and if you're seeing it in an overly negative way.
  • Get Emotional Support: It's important to stay in contact with people who are emotionally supportive.  Even if supportive friends or family aren't directly involved in the situation, just being able to talk it out can help relieve stress and remind you that there are people who care about you.

Getting Help in Therapy
At times, despite your best efforts, if you're overwhelmed, you might need the help of a licensed mental health professional to assist you emotionally.

A skilled therapist can help you not just to manage the chaos that you're in, but s/he can also assist you to develop healthy coping skills that would help you in any difficult situation.

Getting Help in Therapy

An experienced psychotherapist can also help you to see if the current situation is triggering emotions from old unresolved emotional wounds and help you to work through prior trauma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:

Also see my article:  The Mind-Body Connection: Mindfulness Meditation

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