How to Regain your Composure and Calm Down Quickly

Five exercises to widen the gap between stimulus and response

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

The easiest way to regain your calm is to not lose your temper in the first place, of course. Sadly, we don’t always do this, no matter how much we want to. It’s not a question of if we’re going to lose our temper, but when.

When you do fly off the handle, the next best thing you can do is to regain your composure and calm down as quickly as you can. Here are five exercises you can use to get back in control.

  • Check your expectations. The primary cause of frustration (the most common reason why we lose our cool) is that we’re experiencing an unmet expectation. We anticipated an outcome and it didn’t happen. Identify that expectation. Often times, it wasn’t realistic and you just need to adjust your expectations. This can be hard to admit, but it can really take the air out of your sails. (If your expectation was realistic, be sure to calm down before you discuss your unmet expectations with anyone else.)
  • Put yourself in their place. If your roles were reversed, how would you want them to treat you? Instead of flying off the handle, you’d probably want them to roll with it. This role-reversal can help you depersonalize the negative emotions and focus on the positive response.
  • Leave it in the past. So you got a pepperoni pizza instead of double pepperoni. Is it really worth getting upset over? For the next 10 minutes, you’re only experiencing half the pepperoni joy you should be. Fine. In 10 hours, it’s just a memory, unless you’re having leftover pizza for breakfast. And 10 weeks from now? You won’t even remember what you ordered. A quick 10–10–10 analysis will help you see that before too long, it isn’t going to matter.
  • Answer the front door. My favorite trick for interrupting the biological fight-or-flight response is to mentally answer the front door. There exists a scenario for which you would change moods like a light switch so that you could open the door with a smile. Maybe it’s a special someone. Maybe it’s a business opportunity. Maybe it’s Grubhub. This exercise shows you it’s possible to change moods quickly, so why not change moods simply to be in a better mood?
  • Work it out with a workout. Do push-ups. Or jumping jacks. Or burpees. Physical exercise helps the body process stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Besides, what more appropriate way to respond to the fight-or-flight hormone than by going for a run?

Each of these exercises helps you create a separation between stimulus and response. The wider this separation is, the easier it is for you to choose how you respond.

The one thing you shouldn’t do is deny what you’re feeling. You’re not a bad person for getting upset. Emotions are part of being human. You just want to make sure that an uncontrolled negative response to a situation doesn’t create a lasting consequence that you’ll have to deal with later.

There is a biological component to your negative response, but your brain has the final say. Sometimes, you just need a little help reframing the problem. Don’t tell yourself you can’t control your behavior lest you start to believe yourself.

You may need to mend a fence, but the sooner you calm down, the less fence you’ll need to mend. You’ll feel better and you’ll be more productive. So will everyone around you.

Question: What’s your favorite way to calm down? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.