How to Stay Calm When All Hell Breaks Loose: 20 Habits to Give You Strength in Adversity

How you can prepare yourself to deal with problems, stress and crises.

This is part of the “Wellness Wheel Habits Checklist” series where I look at habits associated with the 6 areas of life (Occupational, Physical, Emotional, Social, Financial and Spiritual).

1. Ask yourself “What if this is an opportunity?”

Every situation no matter how bad it is, can be reframed in a different way. For example, losing a job could be seen as an opportunity to start a new business. A visit by the in-laws could be your opportunity to cultivate patience and resistance to torture. Global thermonuclear war could be a chance to get that alone-time you wanted.

2. “Will it matter in 10 years?”

Yes, that person accidentally spilling orange juice down your front before you’re about to give your Nobel Prize acceptance speech might seem like a big deal at the time, but most things are not that important, even if they feel important at the time.

3. Forgive yourself

Most people are too hard on themselves. Blaming themselves for things that were out of their control, or mistakes that everyone invariably makes. Don’t waste energy giving yourself a hard time. You’re OK.

4. Learn to put up with life’s small irritations

If you can withstand trivial annoyances like poor service, excessive waiting or someone walking really slowly in front of you because they’re looking at their smartphone, it will make life easier and a lot less stressful. And this will help you to withstand bigger irritations too.

5. No regrets

As you get older, it becomes easy to accumulate a whole lot of regrets. What if you’d quit that job? What if you’d stayed in that relationship? What if you’d never left N-Sync?

Regrets are able to exist because of the crystal clear clarity of hindsight. But when you made a particular decision, you did it with the best information and intentions at the time. You can’t blame yourself.

Say “no regrets” and mean it, because regrets are a waste of time.

6. Practice “responsibility transfer”

This stress management technique involves handing over problems to another entity e.g. God, Morgan Freeman, the universe, asking or allowing them to figure it all out. It’s like taking a weight off your shoulders.

7. Ask yourself “How can I make this situation better?”

If you’re one of those people whose first response to a bad situation is “Why me?” or “This shouldn’t be happening” or “I wish I hadn’t worn these trousers, they are tight in all the wrong places” then try and change the first question you ask to be “How can I make this situation better?” In other words, be solution focused.

8. Keep an accomplishment list

Keep a list of things you have accomplished in life. Don’t restrict yourself to “big” accomplishments like getting a daytime Emmy award or figuring out how to stop iCloud notifications telling you that your account is almost full. Write down anything and everything no matter how seemingly small. When you read it back at a later date, it’ll be a real boost. And don’t stop. Keep adding to it and reviewing it regularly.

9. Let negative thoughts pass like water in a river

Your mind continually churns up thoughts, wanted or unwanted. We think that each thought is special and worthy of being put on a pedestal, given a medal ceremony or a special on Netflix, but it is not. There are plenty more where they came from. You don’t need to engage with every negative thought you have. Think of it like a river and let the negative thoughts flow past.

10. Remember you did that too

A lot of the things we get annoyed at other people for, are things that we ourselves have actually done. How many times have you been annoyed at someone driving slowly in front of you, even though at times (say when you’re looking for an unfamiliar address, or cruising for a drive-by) you’ve also driven slowly.

11. Tell yourself that a solution will present itself when you need it

One of the very few positives to come out of the Star Wars prequels (aside from Hayden Christensen’s career) was the line: “A solution will present itself” which Liam Neeson’s character said just before he thought he was about to be taken. When you think through your past, you’ll see that often solutions came up as you needed them. Cultivate this belief and it help you to cope with stress much easier.

12. Write down lucky things that happened during the day

When you pay attention to good things that happen to you during the day, it will make you feel happier and more lucky. 

13. Develop a different response

If someone always makes you want to (metaphorically) strangle them, think of a different, less homicidal response and give yourself a strong reason to respond in that way. Then practice that response each time you see them. Over time that response will become your habitual one.

14. Create a good qualities list

It would be nice if you could just stand there and have people hurl compliments at you and make you feel confident whenever you had doubts. But the truth is if you don’t think positively of yourself no one else will. Create a list of good qualities you have and remind yourself of these every day. It’s not the job of other people to maintain your self-esteem and self-worth, it’s yours.

15. Sit with a negative feeling

Instead of fighting a negative feeling why not try the opposite and just sit with it. Amazingly it will dissipate by itself. If it doesn’t, try 12 Moscow Mules (Warning: Do not try 12 Moscow Mules to fight a negative feeling)

16. It will take time

Much of the frustration in modern life stems from our lack of patience. And the fact is, big goals take time. All of them. No exceptions. It will take longer than you thought.

17. Expect a disrupted day

Instead of expecting things to work like clockwork and then being disappointed when something invariably goes wrong, why not assume that your day will be disrupted? Then you won’t be so upset if something bad does happen, and if things go OK, you’ll be thrilled.

18. Reframe nervousness

When you feel nervous, reframe those feelings as excitement: “I’m nervous” = “I’m excited”. This creates a more helpful state of mind. All of the somatic symptoms you get with nervousness (butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, palpitations, projectile vomiting) can be easily attributed to excited anticipation.

19. Write it out

When something bad happens, “Write it out”: If you have a bad experience or something that really annoys you, get a pen and paper or open up your laptop and just write. It can be very therapeutic. This is like journaling but in response to a particular situation.

20. Don’t be a victim

It’s remarkably easy to become a complaining, bitter, resentful “victim”- as in someone who feels that they are constantly being persecuted. Even billionaires, movie stars and highly paid periodontists can allow this to happen to them. But these sorts of people are miserable and no one likes them. People like to help those who are proactive, positive and motivated. Take responsibility for your life, and when you catch yourself feeling sorry for yourself or blaming, then stop it immediately.

Now what?

So how many of these habits do you have?

When problems or crises hit, you want the ability to withstand the pressure and to do that, you need to develop the habits beforehand.

Look at the emotional resilience habits you don’t have, and if you think it’s useful, the pick one to try and introduce into your life. Then once you’ve got that new habit under your belt, introduce a new one.

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