Oh, So THAT’S What Naturally Calm People Do to Avoid Toxic Stress
Habits you can cultivate to become a less reactive person.
They stay mindful
Genetics and upbringing are heavy forces in determining whether you are a naturally calm or anxious person, but it’s not the final word. Research shows that the brain and nervous system are flexible. No matter how you are “wired” to react to stress, continued practice can bring your level of everyday anxiety down a notch. “You can shift the needle toward calmness,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, the science director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. One of the best mental habits to cultivate is to focus on the present moment. Thinking about the past and future can greatly diminish how you feel right now. “We worry about possibilities that aren’t as threatening as we imagine them to be, “ says Simon-Thomas. Mindfulness will help you realize that life in real time—this particular moment—is not a threat. These mini meditations can banish stress from your brain.
They maintain an “I’m lucky” attitude
People who are naturally calm also feel a sense of gratitude. They might say things to themselves such as, “I’m so happy my mother watched my kids yesterday so I could have a date night.” To practice feeling grateful gives someone the ability to think about all the good things in their lives, notes Simon-Thomas. And most importantly, it shifts the mental state from scarcity into one of abundance and support.
They take deep breaths
“Just taking a few deep breathes engages your parasympathetic nervous system,” says Simon-Thomas. Take a deep breath through the nose—the kind that fills your belly. It’s called a diaphragmatic breath. The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest” system, slowing heart rate and relaxing the gastrointestinal muscles. These quotes can help bring out your inner calm.
They cultivate self-awareness
“Just notice what is happening in your mind and body in real time and allow it to pass,” says Simon-Thomas. Do you get caught up in a snide remark or a conflict with a colleague? Make note of what gets you in a tense state. The idea is to figure out what things individually you’re reacting to that are not a threat in the grand scheme of life. Keep in mind: These phrases automatically make any fight worse.
They get lost in the moment
Research suggests that the ability to be present for moment-of-moment experiences is an indicator for overall happiness and a sense of well-being. “When our minds wander, we often think about unpleasant things…our worries, our anxieties, our regrets,” says Matt Killingsworth, PhD, a researcher whose data created the landmark study “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Instead, get lost in the moment you’re actually in, whether it’s surfing the internet, diving into a project for work, reading a captivating book, or focusing on conversation with a friend. Here are the truly best ways to maximize your free time.
They give others the benefit of the doubt
If you find your hackles raising because a driver cut you off or your coworker interrupted you in a meeting, step back and appraise the situation objectively: What if your interpretation of the moment is wrong? Are you assuming the other party had bad intentions? Do you really know them well enough to say what they were thinking or feeling? Take this attitude, and you may find yourself taking the lead on fostering cooperation and understanding in tense situations.
They really listen to their life partner
“It seems to be built into our emotional mechanisms to become defensive and adrenalized when our intimate relationship seems in danger,” writes psychologist Randi Gunther, PhD, of couples who “lose it” during tough conversations. One of her tips: Pick an object sacred to you and agree that only the partner holding it is allowed to speak. Instead of responding to a challenging critique right away, you’ll be forced to pause and respond more thoughtfully. Once you realize your knee-jerk reaction is a response to fear of loss of the relationship, you can become more open-mined to better ways of communicating.