7 ways to stay calm in a crisis

We all admire people who keep their cool when life gets tough. How do they do it? 

Stress is inevitable. And yet we all handle it differently.  Some of us cope admirably in a crisis, while others lose their head. Here are seven tips to help next time life isn’t going your way. 

1. Mindful Breath 

A crisis is not a time for scenario planning. It is a time for a rapid, considered response. Evidence supports the age-old advice to: ‘take a deep breath.’  Holding the air in your lungs for ten seconds gives you the oxygen your brain needs to function. Mindfulness is all about breathing while paying attention to what you’re doing.  It’s a technique used by A+E staff and military personnel. The next time you clean your teeth focus on each brush stroke. You’ll soon get the hang of it.  

2. I’ve Got This 

‘I’ve got this’ has entered the popular lexicon because positive self-talk can make all the difference. Telling yourself you are up to a task is proven to increase both the speed and efficiency with which you perform it. Equally, patting yourself on the back or simply admitting you did your best when things don’t go well are great ways to draw a line under any mishap. This distance gives you and your team breathing space to move onto the next molehill with undiminished enthusiasm. 

3. 30 Words Or Less

To respond effectively to a critical-event we must first understand what is going on.  Police on the beat are trained to ask witnesses, victims or perpetrators to limit their responses to ‘30 words or less.’ Not only does this focus people on the facts but it empowers you to compare different perspectives on the event before deciding which course of action to take. 

4. Values & Actions 

Research tells us that the people who stay calmest and respond fastest in a crisis have principles they live by. Rather than debating the pros and cons they default to a pre-scripted action in their head. For example, a lady who believes that children have a greater right to life than adults will first help a child escape from a car wreck before going back for his/her parents. Values must be linked to behaviours. Write down three values and as many associated behaviours as you can. Keep them in your pocket. You never know when you might need them.  

5. Count to Ten.   

“Reacher said nothing.” ― Lee Child

Every second someone buys a Jack Reacher thriller. Avenging humanity against powerful psychopaths may explain his enduring appeal but the balletic violence of Lee Child’s prose often distracts us from the stoic masterclasses that lie hidden in plain sight.

“I was always twice the size of the other kids, and she (Reacher’s Grade School Teacher) used to say to me: count to ten before you get mad, Reacher. And I've counted way past ten on this one. Way past.” ― Lee Child, Die Trying

Counting to ten gives us just enough time to see that what matters most isn’t the crap that life throws at us but our reaction to it. In the real world in which everything is constantly changing (and there is nothing you can do about it) saying nothing and doing less is always a safe bet.   

Lee Child (r), author of the Jack Reacher series and Duncan Munro (l), winner of the ‘Real Jack Reacher Look-a-Like Competition.’ 

6. Nature Fix   

The next time you know you are about to have a stressful encounter take time to look at nature. In 2013 researchers at the University of Essex found that people who looked at scenes of nature (on a laptop) recovered faster from stressful encounters than those who did not. At the same time, walking to work before a make or break meeting counts as green exercise which helps clear up confusion, moderate anger and lift our mood while priming us to engage more positively with those we are in conflict with. 

walk in the park

7. Call A Friend

A 2003 Zurich study discovered that a group of healthy young men had a smaller stress response to a psychologically stressful experience when they had hung out with a best friend immediately before-hand. Human beings are social animals. We evolved in tribes which means it is natural for us to feel safer around humans we know and trust. 


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