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How to Remain Calm No Matter What the Storm

There has been a major storm in our economy for almost two years now. Understandably, this resulted in many people feeling very stressed. When you’re overly stressed the chemistry in your brain changes. Your problem solving abilities are reduced and your judgment is diminished - you may even experience an increase in aggression. In fact, being stressed it is a very similar state as being drunk! This is no state to be in when making important decisions about any area of your life. 

When the markets hit tremendous lows in the past year and a half, many investors panicked under the stress and sold all their investments. In most cases, this was a major mistake because they sold low and locked in all those loses. They did so because they were stressed and not thinking clearly. The Dow Jones has increased by about 40 percent since March, 2009 - unfortunately, anyone who panicked and sold stock before that date lost out on those huge market gains. Before you make any major decisions in any stormy circumstances, discover how to overcome the effects of stress on your brain.

Here are some simple and quick steps to take to begin to relax and reduce stress:

Ø Take at least 3 deep, slow, regular breaths – this will start to slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and restore cognitive clarity.

Ø As you breathe, let your shoulders relax and loosen your jaw – you may be surprised at how much tension you hold in your jaw.

Ø Focus your mind on the present moment – to help you with this maybe focus your attention on your breath passing through your nostrils as you breathe, or pick a spot on the wall or floor and focus your eyes gently on that spot. When focusing on the present moment you prevent yourself from regretting the past and fearing the future – both of which increase stress. (For a deeper understanding of this concept, read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.)

Ø When uncomfortable thoughts and feelings arise, don’t try to ignore them but acknowledge them as if from a distance and label them – recent research at UCLA proves this practice allows you to detach from negative emotions so they do not hijack your calmness.

Once you sense you are relaxed, you can start to look at your situation more realistically. Perhaps first take a break, go for a walk, get out in the fresh air and sunlight – it is advisable not to make major decisions during the dark of night when your mind seems to magnify problems. Then, like the serenity prayer says, accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can. Regarding the things you cannot change - e.g., the markets crashing - simply accept the situation and let go of any tension you feel about it. If there is nothing you can do about it, why worry? 

Regarding the things you can change. Once you are relaxed and mental clarity has been restored to your brain, make an objective list of what you need to do – not one swayed by emotion. Then, calmly and as relaxed as possible, complete each task to the best of your ability.
Will this calm the outer storm in our economy and stop the markets crashing? No. But it will calm the storm within you and make you less likely to do something irrational that you will later regret.

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  1. The "connect to the emotion and name it" part is particularly effective. I used it the other day to let go of the fright of having almost hit another car that turned (illegally) into my path.

    The best development of this I know of is known as the Welcoming Prayer, and it comes out of the Benedictine Centering Prayer tradition.

  2. Love your suggestions, have employed many of these techniques for years and found them extremely useful--when I remember to use them.

    Key for me: "If there is nothing you can do about it, why worry?"

    Enjoying Mike Reeves-McMillan's response, too, quoting you: "Connect to the emotion and name it." I don't do this enough when I am deeply disturbed by another's behavior or events beyond my control. Thank you both for reminding me to up my practice.

  3. Thankyou for the article and loved reading, there is so much we can do to assist ourselves in the simple technique of relaxation and learning to breathe...

    When you breathe you are refreshing your mind with other possibilities that were once not there.

  4. what a wonderful post!! thanks for the suggestions.. would work well even in parenthood!

  5. Excellent post; wonderful ideas and the blog is, I think, exceptional and valuable. More than ever, we need to use our minds more fully and "sharpen our brains" to deal with the challenges we face. Scholarship is useful but not accessible to everyone; "Brainsmanship," however-that is something we can all cultivate.