How to Stay Calm During Turbulent Times

Learning how to be calm and centered can seem like an impossible task on most busy weeks, let alone while we're in the throes of a global pandemic. Staying calm is an acquired skill, not something you can just learn without practice. So, how do you stay calm in the face of such daunting uncertainty and challenges?

By Jace Jeffords

January 16, 2021
Categories: Health & Wellness
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The last 365 days have been some of the most trying times in most peoples’ lives.  Global pandemics that continue to impact how we live our lives, while radical political shifts and waves of social changes rocked our boats in unending waves this past year.  2020 was anything but a cakewalk, and not many people would hold out hope for an easier 2021 (from what we’ve seen so far!).

So, how can you keep your head on your shoulders amidst so much chaos?

Are you able to stay calm and hold it together in the face of so much uncertainty?

What kind of things calm you down when everything around you spirals out of control?

These are just a few of the fundamental questions looming over our daily lives.  The influences of stress, anxiety, nervousness, depression and substance abuse have always been significant, but they seem to be amplifying with each passing news headline or restriction put in place by governments. 

The coronavirus has taken many calm & confident people and turned their worlds upside down, so it’s no wonder that stress is on the rise seemingly as much as Covid-19 numbers. People are under so much mental, emotional & physical pressure that the American Psychological Association found that 8 in 10 adults have been significantly stressed since the Covid-19 outbreak, while 3 in 5 American adults say that they constantly feel overwhelmed (78% and 60%, respectively)[1].

Without a doubt, if you are suffering from constant stress, anxiety, or depression you likely feel like you’re alone.  The fact that we’re being forced to social distance does not help these feelings of isolation – and in some cases government restrictions on our businesses or public activities aren’t helping you feel any better either.  Nevertheless, we’re not alone, not by a longshot. 

We’re all stuck in the same rut thanks to this virus, and societal problems affect all of us in the long run.  Conquering Covid or overcoming social injustices will require us to come together, if not physically than mentally, emotionally, politically, and spiritually.  There are many ways you can contribute to a safer and more normalized world, but it starts with taking care of your mental & physical wellbeing first.

[1] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/10/stress-mental-health-crisis

You can learn how to be calm without relying on drugs or medications.  You can figure out how to calm your nerves even in the face of the most overwhelming odds.  Most of what we’ll cover will seem obvious, and many of you reading this will have already practiced these kinds of calming exercises.  This guide is meant to bring forward all those tips, tricks and trade secrets that are easily accessible to all so that you or someone you love can work towards freedom from the clutches of stress, anxiety or depression.

Let’s go over some of the tenets to staying calm to make you a more peaceful, confident, content and centered individual. 

STAYING CALM IS A BALANCING ACT

One of the best analogies to the modern busy person is the concept of a juggler: all of us are constantly trying to be at our best, put on a good show while juggling an ever-expanding list of things.  Your day-to-day might not be all that stressful, but we all deal with conflict and anxiety no matter your situation. 

For some, just coping with stress is all they can manage in their busy lives; for others, mitigating stress, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed are absolutely essential to performing for an essential service job. Another group of people are forced to prevent stress in order to stay healthy or avoid health-related catastrophes like heart attacks, strokes or panic attacks.

Whether you’re seeking to lower your stress levels for health reasons, or you need to clear your mind in order to succeed at your  high-performance job, finding calm in a chaotic world can seem like an insurmountable task. 

On top of these stacked odds, there are so many kinds of stressors, types of anxiety and spectrums of depression that you have to be aware of. Even if you navigate your way through one kind of stress – such as financial burdens, emotional pressures or physical limitations – another can crop up and throw you out of equilibrium. 

Going back to the juggling reference, perfecting your ability to catch-and-throw one kind of stress is great, but as soon as you throw another object into the mix it can break your concentration and lead to everything crashing down.

Have you ever gawked at those seemingly superhuman individuals who can manage multiple screaming kids, keep their house clean, have a productive day at work and still find the time to hit the gym or enjoy their evenings? Like the famous line of memes and t-shirts say, these people have simply learned ‘how to keep calm’ in the midst of life’s inundating waves of chaos. Sounds simple, right?

Obviously figuring out how to calm your nerves isn’t so cut-and-dry, or there wouldn’t be a market for sleeping pills, antidepressants, relaxing tea or even cigarettes.  It’s not always about what you put into your body to counteract what makes you nervous.  Today, many people are instead shifting their focus to positive behaviors, practices and rituals that help them stay calm. 

Focus on lean protein sources

Yoga, meditation, leisure activities, sports and physical activity are often more effective and healthier options to help you manage your stress levels without relying on substances.  Staying calm is well within your reach if you maintain a healthy balance of nutrition, activity, stimulation, and relaxation. 

These cover your physical health and some of your mental fatigue, but what about the emotional stress of family, or the brain-crushing pressures of maintaining your finances & career? For these kinds of stressors, you want to stay relaxed and find balance just like with your health, but money-worries and the emotional ups-and-downs of friends & family are a lot less about what you’re doing and more about extraneous factors that might be out of your control.

So, eat good, be fit, find time for fun & relaxation and you’ll feel less stressed… but what about managing money-stress or the ties-that-bind? There are ways to learn how to remain calm even in the face of the dominating influences of money, family, politics and society. 

What are these magical best ways to be calm? Let’s go through the top 5 things to do to calm you down in times of stress or anxiety.

BEST WAYS TO BE CALM, CENTERED & CONFIDENT

Less is more (avoid your vices)

Sometimes being effective at staying calm is not always about what you’re doing, but more so about what you’re not doing.  Case in point, lowering your intake of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and other addictive substances can go a long way towards mitigating your stress, nervousness or feelings of depression.

The United States is actually on the lower end of the scale of ‘alcohol consumed per year’ (13.7 Liters on average, per person[1]), but nonetheless alcohol accounts for a lot of problems in this country.  Alcohol consumption in the U.S. is considered to be ‘serious health risk’ or ‘an out of control addiction’ for about 14-14.5 million people (Alcohol Use Disorder, AUD, NIH 2019).  Alcohol is one of the most common and easy to access addictive substances, which is why hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of youths are negatively influenced by binge drinking every year.

Alcohol can be tough to kick – even for adults, especially for underage adolescents – so it’s no wonder that this societal problem is showing no signs of going away any time soon.  Nicotine smoking & vaping is also extremely prevalent, although historically the smoking numbers have consistently decreased over the past couple decades.  Still, many people turn to alcohol or tobacco, or other recreational drugs in order to cope with stress or to combat their feelings of depression. Caffeine is not necessarily used as a stress reliever, but it can be quite addictive and create dependency in many people just like with alcohol, nicotine or other substances.

Although these addictive vices are relied on by millions of Americans, they’re obviously not helping anyone to stay calm and find their balance in any meaningful ways.  These substances provide short-term relief, escape or ‘numb the hurt’ from physical, mental or emotional trauma.  It comes as no surprise to most people that these kinds of addictions bear no positive fruits, but nevertheless millions and millions of adolescents & adults turn to them in an effort to cope with stress, anxiety or depression. 

[1] https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/alcohol-consumption-by-country

One of the most important changes you can make that can lead to a lot less stress, nervousness or negative feelings is to limit your intake/reliance on these kinds of substances.

The oft quoted “less is more” adage is a perfect representation of this important shift in your daily life.  The less alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and other substances you consume, the less dependent you will be on them.  Conversely, the more reliant you are on booze, cigarettes or coffee to get you through the day, the less likely you will be to handle what comes your way.  Temporary relief is often sought out in favor of more challenging long-term solutions, but this is what this is all about: taking the road less traveled in order to reach a new destination of freedom from stress & anxiety. 

Sure, most people like to casually drink, smoke or indulge themselves, but the line between “pleasure” and “substance abuse” is razor thin – especially in times of conflict and uncertainty like we’re in today.

If you can manage it, try to refrain from consuming these kinds of vices at all – but if you do, always be conscious of your intake and keep your long-term mental & physical health in mind.  Implementing a rewards-system is a good way to set these good habits in motion.  For instance, don’t drink alcohol all week, but allow yourself a high-quality glass of wine, beer or spirits on the weekend to congratulate yourself on being disciplined all week.  The key here is ONE or two beverages, NOT an entire weekend of binge drinking!

Similarly, if you’re a coffee drinker, set 1-2 days a week where you think you’ll be the most tired and buy/make yourself your absolute favorite, fancy latte, cappuccino or americano.  You’ll notice that these kinds of rewards also become goals throughout the week – focusing on consuming limited amounts of high-quality, consistent substances like alcohol or caffeine will go a long way towards reducing your dependency on them.  Ideally, you don’t need to consume any caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or others, but we know the world is full of ups-and-downs, so as long as you’re managing your intake these substances can comfortably be a part of your balanced/healthy lifestyle.

You are what you eat, so do it healthy

This one might seem obvious to most of you, but it’s actually the most under-utilized tool in your toolbelt.  Your diet is more than just the nutrition you get from food, drinks and health products – your diet is a major part of your lifestyle.  What you choose to eat and drink says a lot about who you are, where you’re from, who you associate with and how you like to live your life.  It’s not just what you’re putting in your body that matters, it’s also important to manage how much, when, and where your food comes from.  On top of all this, there’s the whywhy are you partial to some foods, but indulgent with others? Why do you snack, or over eat, or binge, or avoid some of the beneficial nutrients that your brain & body need?!

These questions aren’t always easy to answer, because for many of us our diets are simply something we’ve developed out of habit, culture, or necessity.  Have you ever really analyzed what you eat/drink on a daily basis? It might be alarming to realize that you’ve been subconsciously avoiding certain fruits and vegetables, or that you’ve been missing out on an entire food group because it is unavailable or too expensive. 

These realizations aren’t inherently negative – in fact, it’s good to go through “diet shock” every once in a while.  Diet shock is a term used by some nutrition experts to describe major fluctuations in our health brought on by poor diet or a need for new dietary constraints.  People who develop sudden food allergies, or who have recently suffered from a health crisis often encounter these kinds of drastic shifts to their diets/lifestyles.

Stress-eating or binge consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages continues to rise to almost epidemic proportions in this country.  Researchers have made connections between weight gain & stress in recent studies, attributing 25% (1 in 4 American adults) who are obese rate their stress levels between 8-10 on a 10-point scale[1].

Add to these staggering figures the increasing rates of morbid obesity, diabetes in both children and adults, and cardiovascular diseases linked to poor diets and lack of nutrition & exercise and it’s no wonder the United States ranks 12th highest on the Obesity Population Rating on the world-scale (36.2% obesity rates, ProConn 2016).

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat

We are what we eat, and we’re stress-eating and consuming junk foods too often, so the not-so-secret to lowering stress when it comes to your diet is to limit the bad, balance the good and be consistent.  Simple, right?

It can seem impossible to balance your diet, but similar to the ‘less is more’ mentality, the same goes for your nutrition.  To cut down on your stress from being overweight, or to avoid falling prey to overeating due to anxiousness or depression, break the cycle and take control of your food – don’t let what you eat control you!

Everything in moderation is a safe strategy to take – cut your meal sizes in half, reduce your salty & sugary foods to the bare minimum, and try to eat meals that include multiple food groups to cover all your bases.  No matter what you’re eating or drinking, avoid overly large portions of one particular type.  Instead, fill your plate – and your stomach – with a diverse bunch of healthy food groups.  Lean proteins, grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits and superfoods are essential to have on every plate. 

Many healthy people have realized that the whole “time of day” food concept is silly and isn’t based on any science.  Eating typical “breakfast foods” to start the day isn’t important, what is important is that you’re getting enough nutrition throughout the day (especially to get your mind & body going in the morning!).  So throw out those old notions of eggs-and-bacon-in-the-morning, and trade in your salty/sugary breakfasts for superfood smoothies, oatmeal loaded with nuts and fruits, or eat an appetizer-style snack board.  Whatever your tastes, you can make them healthy by being hyper-aware of the nutritional values of your foods and beverages.

Nutrition shouldn’t be something you stress over, and when you are eating healthy and balancing your diet you’ll feel better, look better, and be more worry-free.  It might seem counterintuitive to spend all this energy in controlling what you eat – for some, the reason they don’t eat healthy is because it can be stressful, take more planning and often costs more.  Nevertheless, think of the long-term positives over the short-term negatives in this case and you’ll find you’re less anxious about food and more energetic about everything else.  This is because when you eat healthy you’re properly fueled and ready to tackle the next big cause for stress in our lives: work.

Work smarter, not harder

It comes as no surprise that the #1 thing people stress over is money, and how do we get this all-consuming resource? We work hard for the majority of our lives, and we do the best we can to manage our money.  Even if you have a good paying job, the never-ending struggle to earn enough to live the way you want is a life-long pursuit.  Careers, jobs, part-time work and even volunteer services can be extremely stressful and lead to a lot of anxieties.

The fear of not having enough money to live comfortably, loss of time to work, the stress caused by relationships at your job, and the overarching “race against time” to save for your future are some pretty heavy topics.  Everyone feels the burdens of what they do for work, no matter how well off they are or how poor they might be.

Since there’s no secret to “the best job” or “how to get the most money” because it would be different for everyone, the best we can offer is some tips on managing your stress at work.  We have to work for a living, there’s no avoiding that harsh fact.  So, if we’re going to be stuck spending two thirds of our lives at the office then we may as well perfect the art of time management.

Managing your time effectively takes a lot of practice, so it’s not something you can just perfect over night.  Nonetheless, learning to stay calm at work requires a lot of patience, efficiency, commitment and confidence built up over time.  Most of the successful entrepreneurs of the world preach a similar motto: learn to manage your most precious resource, time, and you’ll find everything else falls into place.

Time management might mean splitting your shifts, getting up earlier to shop or hit the gym before work, or it might lead you to approach your entire work-life balance differently.  Either way, you need to develop systems that help you to manage your time at work more efficiently so that you can achieve two things:

  1. Spend less time at work so that you can squeeze more hours out of the day doing everything else
  2. Become more effective at handling your workload and avoid bringing work-stress home with you

Even though money takes up most of our focus when it comes to work, time is the ultimate resource that can influence your mood, emotions, and mental & physical wellbeing.  If you have a long commute to-and-from work, try to make it as enjoyable, productive or incorporate some leisure activities into the hours spent travelling.  If you have the option of taking the bus, train, subway or other travel systems to work, invest in this resource! You can bring books, listen to music or podcasts, learn a language, even get ahead of your workday by doing a bit on the way to your job. 

If this isn’t realistic for your situation, you can still invest in anti-stress activities like music, audiobooks, podcasts, radio or turn your morning commute into a bluetooth conference meeting! There are so many options for turning this very stressful time of day (going to-and-from work) into one of the more productive times of your workday.

The same goes for your midday break or lunch.  People who invest this crucial time of the workday to workout, go for a run, relax, reset your brain at the cafe, read books, or do menial tasks that still allow you to unplug a bit.  In all these cases, your time at work is being spent to the fullest. 

It might seem chaotic or like you might add more stress to your day, but if you maintain this kind of pace and turn it into a routine you’ll find your mind can handle the busyness while your body acclimates to your day at the office a lot more efficiently.  Success in your job is all about creating good habits while limiting bad ones, and time management is one of the most positive ones you can invest yourself in.

If you, like millions of others nowadays, actually work from home now due to the pandemic then time management is very achievable but no less important.  Many people struggle to maintain the same productivity at home as they would at their job.  There are so many distractions at home and a lot less discipline, so you need to set the same kinds of standards for yourself as you would while on the job. 

Working from home makes you, in essence, a manager and employee amalgamated into one.  It can be tough to balance these juxtaposing roles, but it’s essential that you learn how to stay on-task, manage your time well, be disciplined and put forth the same level of effort each home-office day.  Stress levels seem to be lower while working at home, but if you’re not managing your productivity closely then this can turn your ‘work-week’ into a ‘weekend of catchup’. 

Setting schedules, sticking to timelines, committing to goals and rewarding yourself for adhering to your own systems will lead you on the path towards happiness, health and most importantly freedom from the burdens of work-related stress.

Find time for the things/people you love

If work is one of the most stressful parts of our lives, then relaxing or leisure time is assuredly one of the best things to calm you down, hands down.  Just like with work, it’s all about managing your time effectively to set yourself up with enough quality time to yourself, with friends/family and doing what you enjoy.

Believe it or not, not having enough time in a day to do what you love, with who you love can be one of the most stressful parts of your day.  So, this means that you have to be constantly planning, shifting gears or trying to adapt to the events of the day and trying to stay ahead of your own schedules.  This is no easy task, but it is one part of your stress-burden that you likely have the most control over.

Unlike with your work schedule, what you do with your leisure time is completely up to you.  For some, leisure time might mean “doing absolutely nothing” and this is totally understandable.  For others, downtime is a bad term because they like to keep busy and cram as much into as little hours as possible.  Both methods have their merits, so it’s really your personal choice and no advantage/disadvantage situation. 

Focus on lean protein sources

As long as you’re investing the time and energy into the right kinds of activities, you can destress effectively and efficiently.  Who is to say what is an acceptable pastime and what is not? Again, we’re not here to tell you how to spend your free time, but there are some obvious no-no’s to leisure time.  Simply put, don’t spend your days doing anything destructive or harmful to yourself or others.  There, very clear cut but also open-ended enough to include everyone’s preferences. On the other side of the leisure coin is who you spend your time with whenever you have “free time”.  It will come as no surprise that one of the most stressful parts of our lives is also one of the best parts of life itself: relationships.  Love, laughter, friendship, family, comradery, brother/sisterhood, belonging, shared experiences and memories are just a handful of the joys of interpersonal relationships.  

It’s up to you to decide who you associate with and why, but with the same ‘grain of salt’ approach to leisure time, just make sure you’re not investing yourself in destructive, harmful or abusive relationships.  As always, time is one of the most prominent factors in how happy/unhappy you are with your relationships – not having enough time to spend with friends & family can be extremely stressful. 

On the flip side, we often fall into habits where we spend too much time with people that we might not have most positive relationship with (such as coworkers, strangers in public, etc).  It all comes down to mitigating your stress and maximizing your happiness through management of your time with the people you care about most.  Easier said than done, but nonetheless essential to a stress-free life spent laughing, loving and creating memories with your favorite people.

It’s very important not to stress about your leisure time, because the moment that you do you’re counteracting the good that they can do.  Especially now, with restrictions on travel, public access and leisure activities it’s more important than ever to do your best to shrug it off.  Many of us can’t do what we normally would to destress, but instead of letting this get to us it’s essential that we find new ways to find peace, enjoyment or relaxation. 

Let’s explore some of these positive practices in the next section.

Invest your energy in positive things, behaviors and relationships

This section is going to be brief, because what you do to feel good, unwind, destress, clear your head, etc is never meant to be catalogued and ranked in an order of effectiveness.  What has meaning and works for you might be completely opposite of others, and that’s just fine.  What we’re here to suggest is just like our time management principle or focus on getting proper nutrition is that it doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it.

What do we mean by this? Well, when you shrink everything down to its essential elements, everything we do is all about energy.  We’re not talking about atoms, electricity or even emotions, but hear us out…

Everything has an energy to it or instills a certain charge/feeling in us through experiencing it.  Food can literally energize you, exercise makes you feel supercharged, while reading a book might ease your energetic mind or meditation can balance your sense of being.  It’s difficult to define, but everything we do for work or play has an element of energy to it.  Stress is a form of negative energy, whereas relaxation is undoubtedly positive.

In essence, the key to reducing your stress levels, easing your anxiety or reversing your bad moods is to invest yourself, your time and your resources into positive energy sources.  What is a positive energy source? Anything or anyone that brings you any modicum of joy has a positive influence on your energy. 

Yoga, meditation, sports, working out, running and many other forms of physical activity offer different levels of positive energy that are very fast/effective at reducing stress.  Painting, playing music, drawing, writing, reading, and art in its myriad forms are excellent sources of positive energy.  Essential oils, flavorful, aromatic & healthy foods, invigorating beverages or warm-and-cozy teas, soothing topicals and fragrant cosmetics can all have positive influences on how you feel as well. 

In all these examples, you can experience them on your own or have shared experiences with people you care about.  These are all just examples we came up with too – what brings you joy, whatever enervates you with positive energy can be an effective anti-stress tool.  There’s almost no limit to the kinds of things, activities or relationships that can have positive influences on you.  The real crux of the matter is to focus your energy on sources of joy, fulfillment and comfort. If something stops being a source of feel-good vibes, then stop doing it! If someone of something takes more of your energy and effort to enjoy that is brings you altogether, then cut ties and you will also free yourself from the clutches of stress.

Focus on lean protein sources

This is a fundamental practice – attuning yourself to positive things, activities and people – and it can be easy sometimes, and hard others.  Regardless of what you attune to, never lose sight of how important your feelings are in context with your lifestyle, personal goals or career path.  We tend to put the pressures of life ahead of our own feelings, but that is something that only leads to stress, anxiety or negative feelings in the long run.

Trust in your own intuitions, invest in yourself and the people/things you care about, and you’ll discover that the secret to being stress-free is to refuse to give it any power over you.

The mind can go either direction under stress – towards positive or toward the negative; on or off.  Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end.  The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by your own training, but it’s all within your control.” — Frank Herbert

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