This blog post gives tips on how to remain calm – especially in circumstances where you may feel you are far from calm. You may be feeling a variety of different emotions: anger, panic, anxiety, sadness, helplessness, disempowerment, mistrust, fear and guilt to name but a few.
Why do I need to stay calm?
You may be wondering what the benefit is of staying calm. Especially during the anger phase of the recovery cycle following a separation, you may feel you are entirely justified in being angry so why do you need to stay calm? Surely the other person needs to know exactly what they have done and how you feel? This can apply too in other phases. So it might be helpful to also explain why staying calm is useful for you:
1. If you are calm then you are less likely to be in fight or flight mode. This means you will be able to access your full brain functioning – rationale, reasoning etc. It means you are capable of listening, understanding, appraising and considering. You’re not just reacting like a lion who has felt a claw in its side, or a caveman who has seen a large animal.
2. Feeling stressed for prolonged periods of time means your body is exposed to the stress hormone cortisol for longer term periods. This can have a negative impact on your physical health and wellbeing. So making efforts to be calm is beneficial to your health.
3. Being calm means you’re more likely to have constructive conversations – even about difficult subjects. One of the problems we see in mediation is that couples have often not communicated clearly and openly about issues for some time. This can sometimes be because they feared how the other person might react. This naturally makes them worry about addressing issues that have caused huge arguments in the past. But to find a way forward you need to be able to talk about all those things. Remaining calm means you are each able to express what you need to and to properly consider all the options.
4. Children also benefit from the adults around them remaining calm. Being in situations where there is a lot of conflict can cause children to experience high levels of cortisol which can have an effect on their physical health and emotional wellbeing. It is also being caught up in conflict that tends to cause more long term effects for children of separated parents. So being able to remain calm – even when there is considerable provocation – is of huge benefit to your children.
5. It puts you in control! If you can hear anything or watch anything without reacting then this is hugely empowering. If your ex partner has always got a reaction from you from certain behaviours and suddenly they find you are not reacting, you may find the behaviours that made you react lessen too. Or you may simply find you are less affected by the behaviours. This again makes constructive discussion more likely during the separation but the benefits for you of being a calm observer of any situation, rather then being drawn in, are huge – possibly life changing.
Here are our top 5 tips to help you stay calm when you really aren’t feeling calm
1. Breath is really important. Firstly, notice your breath. If you’re already taking very shallow breaths then it may be that the fight or flight response has already been triggered and you don’t have access to your full brain functioning. Secondly, by noticing and focusing on your breath you are shutting out other stuff that is happening and giving your brain a different focus for a few moments. Thirdly, try to slow and deepen your breathing. Notice how many counts you’re breathing in for, and breathing out for. Try to expand this. If you’re finding it challenging to breathe in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 3 then just try to achieve that. As that gets easier aim to breathe in for 5 and out for 5. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you can take yourself to another room, or sit in the car to do this then it can work better. You can feel self conscious doing it in front of someone else but if you can built up to being able to do this (even if you keep your eyes open rather than shutting them) then it may be helpful. You may find the breathing app useful in setting a breathe pattern for you to focus on.
It’s worth also pointing out that if you are in a situation that is unsafe then the priority is not to focus on your breath but to get yourself somewhere safe.
3. Do a deep dive into what’s really going on. If you’re being triggered by something time and time again it can be helpful to understand why. Unpicking these things can feel scary. Often people worry that they will dredge up deep unhappiness but it is where the growth happens, and where you can find freedom from things weighing you down. Often people only scratch the surface, or blame it on the actions of the person they feel triggered them, but there is a power in really understanding yourself and your fears. Forewarned is forearmed as the saying goes. This is not terribly mediation friendly as we don’t like to think about any level of arming! But the idea is that if you know about something you can do something about it. A therapist can help with this if you’re struggling but you can also look to identify things yourself by journalling and meditating. It can also be useful to read around a subject and to find recommendations for books, blogs, articles or other sources that might resonate with what you and help with what you’re going through. For many people there can be a reluctance to put yourself through further hurt as part of a painful separation process and this is understandable; but if you focus on where you would like to be in a year or two year’s time how good could it be? Do you want to be living an OK life or an amazing life? The more you can grow and expand what you’re capable of the more your life will natural evolve with it.
4. Find your calmness button. Everyone is different and whilst stroking one person’s arm will have a magical calming effect, another person will find it irritating or uncomfortable. Hypnotherapy, meditating or visualisation can be useful ways of training your brain to find calm in a moment. You could use a mental image like a place in nature you love, or a physical sensation like pushing your thumb and forefinger together. The earlier you recognise you are losing calm and try to restore it the more effective you will be. This can take time and regular practice but it’s worth the investment in yourself.
5. Take a break. By this we don’t mean two weeks by Lake Garda (although that probably would help you to feel calmer 😉 ). If you’re having a conversation that is making you feel worked up then consider asking for a breather (5 minutes? Or a couple of days – whatever would work in the situation) so you can remove yourself from the stress (and the energy) of the situation and focus on your breath for as long as you can. It can also help to establish boundaries for yourself in being clear about situations you won’t accept. It also applies if you are ruminating on something and have thoughts and worries going round in your head. Tell yourself you are taking a break from worrying. It may help to visualise putting the worries in a box and locking it. Do something else to distract you (go for a walk, have a bath, play with your children, sleep) and only come back to it later if you feel you need to and you feel calmer. This definition of worry can be quite powerful. Yes the separation is happening but the worst case scenarios you might be running in your head may not happen.
Overwhelm can be a barrier to calm so don’t try to follow all these tips straight away. Maybe pick the one that looks most doable and start with that one and then work on putting in place others. Or think of your own tips. If you know yourself then you may know what is going to bring you most calm at this difficult time.
If you feel you need support and help in managing your separation as peacefully as possible then why not join our free mailing list for support and guidance? You may also find our free Facebook group, Soulful Separation Support, helpful. It’s a closed group so only members can see what is posted. It’s a space to get support from other people in a similar situation and from professionals who work with those going through a separation.