How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll be Stressed
We often come across situations when we are so stressed out that we are unable to think clearly. This may be because a lot of things go wrong at the same time or because there are a lot of tasks to be done within a short span. What worsens the situation is our stressed-out mind. Situations like these cannot altogether be avoided. What, then, can be done? How do we stay calm in those moments when we know we will be stressed?
To find a solution to this problem, we must first understand how the brain performs under stress. It causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This cortisol raises the heart rate, changes adrenaline levels, and, above all, clouds our thinking. Logical, rational thinking is one thing that goes out of the window when stress sets in. So, first of all, we need to understand that in stressful situations, we are not going to be at our best. What we need to do is to anticipate things that could go wrong, and to put systems in place that can help us.
Such prospective hindsight is called a premortem. Unlike a post-mortem wherein experts figure out things after something goes wrong, in a premortem, we need to plan and find out ways to fix things that could go wrong in the future. When we make premortem a part of our planning, we will be in a better position to minimize damages or, if possible, to prevent them altogether.
Some of the things that are part of a premortem mode of thinking seem pretty obvious. For example, one technique is to design a place in our homes and workplaces for things that are easily lost, such as car keys. Once we decide on a spot, for instance, a drawer, we need to always keep the car keys there. While this seems to be obvious, there is a scientific explanation behind it. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus which helps us to find things. It works better with things that do not move around much. Now, the car keys tend to be misplaced easily. If we make it a habit to place them on a fixed spot like the drawer, the hippocampus will help us locate it easily.
Apart from losing stuff, another thing that stresses us out is forgetting something important. For example, forgetting the credit card and passport while traveling causes a great deal of trouble. To lessen the impact, we can scan such important documents and upload the soft copy to our drives. That way, we always have something to fall back on. It will also make it easier to find replacements for those documents, in case we lose them.
We also get stressed out when we have to make very important decisions, such as a medical or financial decision. Such decisions require a careful analysis of all the sides of the issue. However, at the time of decision-making, we tend to be emotionally weak and stressed out. Pre-mortem involves being prepared to tackle such situations. For example, when one goes to the doctor and is prescribed a particular tablet, it is not wise to just take the medicine without any knowledge about its side-effects. To ensure that one has such a conversation with the doctor, it is better to plan and anticipate such a situation, even before meeting the doctor.
These are but a few ways of planning for stressful situations. We can always add to this, based on an understanding of what stresses us out easily. Nobody is perfect. Each of us has flaws and weaknesses. When problems and hurdles are thrown in our way, we might not be strong enough to tackle them at that time. However, if we just put in a little effort to anticipate pitfalls and put systems in place, situations will no longer be as stressful as they otherwise seem to be.
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