Inner Calm in Outer Chaos: Tricks to Keep your Calm in a Stressful World

Suzanne Degges-White
Suzanne Degges-White

How do we maintain inner calm when the world seems to be swirling with chaos and confusion?

Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., CAHE department chair, counselor and educator, shared 12 life-enhancing practices with College of Education alumni Sept. 16 during a Whiteboard Wednesday presentation.

Ahead of outlining her tips, she communicated an overall guiding principle: Attitude Matters, so Practice Optimism.

What IS optimism? Expectations that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes. Research shows that a positive attitude is much more likely to predict success than focusing on negative outcomes or feelings. Remind yourself, “It’s going to be all right.” Remind yourself of prior successes when dealing with a crisis.

12 Life-Enhancing Practices

#1 Start with the Basics.
Eat right, exercise daily, get plenty of sleep, breathe.

#2 Give Up on Trying to be a Mind Reader.
This generates fear and anxiety, which makes us feel worse than the satisfaction we think we would get from actually finding out another’s thoughts.

#3 Control your Controllables.
Once we accept the limits of our power to control, we can let go of a lot of stress, anxiety and misplaced responsibility. This frees us up to focus on becoming our own best selves.

#4 Invest in a Guaranteed Sure Thing: Your Support Network.
One of the most consistent predictors of life satisfaction is the presence of a strong support network. Whether it’s friends or family, being needed by others and being cared about by others truly has a positive and measurable effect on our physiologies.

#5 Do Something Nice for Someone Else Every Single Day.
And yourself as well. Altruism is an evolutionary behavior that illustrates our commitment not just to our personal survival, but survival of the species and humankind. Altruists tend to live longer lives, enjoy better health and feel better overall.

#6 Go “Cold Turkey” from Media that Incites You.
When you purposefully engage in activities that compromise your mental or physical well-being, it just doesn’t make sense. When we obsess over the things that upset us (e.g., social media posts, news reports), our bodies go into the same mode of functioning that they would if we were facing down a real-life enemy.

#7 Express Yourself.
Journal, blog, vlog, draw, paint, sculpt, dance, sing . . . we experience personal satisfaction and even joy when we engage in creative activities (regardless of skill set!)

#8 Smile.
When we smile, our brains kick into “happiness gear” and dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released – all “feel-good neuropeptides.” Smiling is contagious, too, which is pretty cool, because seeing someone smile at us is emotionally and mentally healing.

#9 Laugh.
Laughter protects us against stress and anxiety – and it’s also a natural pain reliever. Learning to laugh at yourself is a crowning achievement that puts you in a good place to control the way you react to life when things don’t go as planned.

#10 Be “OK” with Being Imperfect.
There’s a Japanese word, “wabisabi,” that describes the perfection found in imperfection. While we should all strive to be the best that we can be, accepting our limitations relieves us of the burden of trying to be more than we are or to meet some external standard that doesn’t take into account individual variations in life.

#11 Invite Gratitude and Mindfulness into your Daily Life.
Gratitude changes our perspective to one of appreciation and acknowledgement of the good things in life – what has been beneficial to us along the way. When we turn our attention to positive thoughts and experiences, those crowd out the negative ones. Mindfulness is about “taking a beat,” and dropping into the “here and now” present moment instead of worrying about the past or focused too much on the future.

#12 Learn Something New Every Day.
Give your brain something to focus on besides worries and fears. Our brains were designed to solve problems and acquire new skills. Check out online games and classes. Just because we are facing real-world limits on our ability to gather with others doesn’t mean that we need to impose limits on our virtual gatherings and activities.

In closing, Degges-White asked us to remember that, “We are all in this together. We will get through this and be better by working with, not against, others.”

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