Practice of the Month

Find Calm When You Need it Most

Find Calm When You Need it Most

It’s safe to say that in the days ahead you will encounter both triumphs and setbacks. Some days will be all smooth sailing. Some days will be mostly turbulent headwinds. On those headwind days, you may come face to face with one of your dreaded trigger points. Then your reactivity may kick in and Boom! You say or do something that is not well thought out and that you regret later.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” is F.D. Roosevelt’s advice. Really? Just how can we tie a knot at the end of our rope and hang on? How can we avoid the Boom?

First, become familiar with the five core needs that all of us have hard-wired in our brain.

When any one of these needs is threatened, our brain instinctively triggers a defensive, reactive response. Here are those needs:

  1. Approval: The need to feel valued by our colleagues, neighbors, friends, co-workers, etc.
  2. Belonging: The need to feel part of a larger purpose or group of like-minded people.
  3. Certainty: The need to have clarity and stability in our community or workplace.
  4. Control: The need to feel in control about what happens in life.
  5. Safety: The need to feel there is “emotional safety” in our social circles.

Next, we can develop a more thoughtful coping system to manage our reactive response.

These are long-term strategies which, if practiced regularly, are more easily available “in the moment” when we are triggered.

  • Calm your body: Focus on your breath, your senses (sound, taste, smell, sight) or engage in active or calming movement.
  • Calm your mind: Observe with curiosity the anxiety-producing thoughts that cycle through your mind; give them less attention and energy. Genuine curiosity is a powerful antidote to anxious fear.
  • Calm your system: Step back from the emotional system that you are a part of and observe the flow of anxiety and reactivity around you. Choose a thoughtful intervention that will help to calm the system.

Anxiety-driven reactivity is experienced first physiologically, then psychologically.

  • (Body) Initial anxiety management: first, calm the physiological self.
    • Five-year-old Blake is crying unconsolably as Becky (mom) picks him up from day care. Her stomach tightens as she dreads the 45-minute ride home in heavy traffic. But she decides first to sit with him on a shady bench where she takes several deep breaths and focuses on the beauty of the surrounding area. She remains quiet and gently rubs Blake’s back to help him calm down. She discovers that her gentle touch calms both herself and Blake.
  • (Mind) Next: calm your thoughts by being curious.
    • Becky asks, “I can see you're upset. Please tell me about it when you're ready.” She listens with curiosity. No advice, no critique, simply listening to understand. Perhaps some follow-up action is needed, perhaps not. All that is for later. Her calm curiosity is contagious and helps Blake to think about his day rather than his upset.
  • (Emotional System) Observe: anxiety and hot emotion tend to dissipate as they run their course.

Some minutes later, it is time for Becky and Blake to begin the trip home. The traffic is still heavy, but the mood in the car is pleasant. Blake falls asleep. His anxiety was released. On the drive home, Becky reflects on how she was able to manage these moments with Blake and realizes that by calming her own anxiety first, she was able to be more helpful to Blake. She thinks: My time with Blake is precious and days like today will be gone soon enough. His tears triggered my anxiety, but I caught myself in time. We got through it together. It is a good day.

Bottom Line: First, calm the Body, then, calm the Mind. Finally, calm the System.

Jim Moyer

Jim Moyer
This article was written by Jim Moyer Founding member of Resilient Leadership, LLC
Jim is an Executive Coach and strategic planning and organizational development consultant with over 30 years experience in for-profit, not-for-profit, and government organizations. Jim has successfully grown his consulting and coaching practice since 1998. You can reach Jim at