“There’s calm in each and every day, we just need to practice reaching out for it.”
~ Ron Baratono writer and poet
There have been many times in my life when my emotions have run away with me and I’ve said or done the wrong thing only to be left ruing the consequences. As American neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux says, “Strong emotions make us stupid.”
Or to put another way – thinking rationally and logically becomes difficult when we are emotionally aroused e.g. afraid, anxious, angry, annoyed, frustrated, hurt. These negative emotions trigger the stress response which instantly prepares our mind and body to survive a threat, real or imagined.
One way we can respond to this emotional hijacking is by creating a state of instant calm.
You might be thinking ‘Come on Tony that’s easier said than done.”
That’s what I used to think too. Then I read Paul Wilson’s book Instant Calm, which contains over 100 successful techniques for relaxing the mind and body. I found my copy in a second hand book shop and can only assume the original owner succeeded in learning all the calming techniques he or she needed.
Near the beginning of Instant Calm, Wilson describes the four conditions that lead to CALM:
COMFORT: When you create comfort in your environment you can make it easier to relax. You can change your environment in a number of ways: find a more comfortable seat; put on looser clothing; change the lighting, change the room temperature, change the noise level etc.
Air: Fresh air combined with movement helps to lower anxiety and the symptoms of stress. So take a break and step outside. Take a stroll through a park or around the block. Sit on a bench or under a tree for ten minutes. If you’re stuck inside find an open window to stand next to. Practice 7-11 breathing for a couple of minutes. This type of breathing triggers the natural relaxation response.
Lack of Stimuli: When you remove the stimuli this prevents a triggering of the stress response. Silence (or a sense of silence) is one of the most powerful counterbalances to anxiety. Most relaxation and meditation practices incorporate silence. Whenever possible seek calm in silence.
Motivation: According to Wilson this is the most important of the four elements of CALM. It recognises that we are responsible for our own well-being and that if we wish to experience relief from negative emotions and their symptoms we need to take responsibility and learn and practice the techniques that will restore a sense of calm and control to our lives.
To help get you started on achieving a sense of instant calm, I’ve chosen a visualization for you to practice and add to your anxiety/stress management toolkit.
This simple visualisation uses the power of your imagination to feed your mind with positive, relaxing, calm images. Some people believe that they can’t visualise. The fact is that we can all visualise. Some people believe they can’t do it well enough but visualisation doesn’t require you to create a high definition picture in your mind’s eye. It’s enough for you to simply get a sense of the scenario you’re imagining or just to pretend you can visualise the scenario.
To start find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down where you won’t be disturbed for 10 or 15 minutes.
1. Now close your eyes.
2. Use the 7/11 breathing technique (see above) to trigger a sense of growing relaxation. Breath in this way for a minute or two.
3. Think about a time when you felt really calm and relaxed. ‘See’, sense or pretend an image of this calm, relaxing time is projected onto a big screen in front of you.
4. As you watch the scene play out, notice what you notice about that time that made it so calm and relaxing: notice the sights, sounds, sensations.
5. Now adjust this picture so that it becomes even more calming, even more relaxing. Perhaps make the screen bigger, brighten the picture, make the colours more vivid, the sounds more appealing.
6. Now imagine floating into that younger you inside this picture and get a real sense of what it is like to feel so calm, so relaxed. Spend a few minutes inside this picture absorbing all those good feelings.
7. As you enjoy this sense of calm repeat the word ‘calm’ over and over in your mind. This will begin to anchor the word to the feeling.
8. When you are ready float out of the younger you in the picture and return to the you in this present moment, bringing back and capturing all those good feelings.
9. Open your eyes.
The more you practice this visualisation the easier it will become to trigger a sense of calm and relaxation when you need it by just saying ‘calm’ to yourself.
I’ll leave you with another quote:
“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
~Dorothy M. Neddermeyer