stay calm and carry on with these tips for greater zen

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Stress is a natural part of life. A little bit of it is good: It’s what motivates you to study for a test, rehearse a presentation, or prep for a job interview. But when stress happens in your relationships, you’re likely to lash out and say things you don’t mean.

Keeping calm in the heat of an argument is easier said than done. Yet there are tried-and-true tactics for remaining composed even when you’re stressed. 🧘

Here’s what the experts say about staying calm in conversation.

Notice your emotions

The part of your brain that regulates emotion is called the limbic system, and it lights up whenever you experience conflict. It’s this system that produces the “fight or flight” response in which your heart rate rises 🫀, your eyes dilate 👁, and your adrenaline and cortisol levels increase ⬆️.

What all this means is that conflict (or stress) triggers an emotional reaction. It’s totally natural, in other words, to get upset in an argument.

The challenge is to recognize what you’re feeling in the moment so you can act on — instead of react to — those feelings. A popular way to describe this is mindfulness: i.e., awareness and acceptance of your emotions. 👏

The lesson: Your intuition may be telling you that conflict is a life-or-death threat, but that’s probably not the case. Try to observe your emotions in the moment instead of reacting right away. 

Take a pause before responding

Acknowledging your emotions helps you remember that what you’re feeling isn’t necessarily reality. It’s valuable to make this distinction before saying anything, psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler says.

“Taking a couple of deep breaths, counting to 10, or getting a glass of water generates a ‘moment of choice’,” Rozenthuler, the author of the book How to Have Meaningful Conversations, tells Stylist magazine.

Following that moment you will be better equipped to reply — compared to blurting something out from deep within your emotional brain. 🗣

The lesson: Pause and let yourself sort through your feelings instead of being governed by them.

Practice breathwork

If the conversation continues to stress you out, breathwork will help you pull it together. Breathing deeply centers you in your body so you can shut out external stressors.

Breathwork is a cornerstone of meditative practice in cultures all around the world. Zen Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno tells the New York Times that there are two essential steps to breathwork: raising your lower abdomen when you inhale, then exhaling deeply from the pit of your stomach. 🌬

Picture fresh air flowing in as you breathe, he adds, training your gaze 45 degrees downward. And repeat several times for best results.

There are other things you can do to quiet the outside world. Masuno, the author of Don’t Worry: 48 Lessons on Relieving Anxiety from a Zen Buddhist Monk, highlights zazen as one of them. It’s the straight-backed pose many people associate with Buddha figurines.

Masuno begins every morning with meditation while sitting zazen — not a bad way to wake up and welcome the day. 🌞

The lesson: Zero in on your breathing in times of stress. Breathwork calms your mind better than just about anything else.

Photo by Josiah Gardner on Unsplash.

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