What’s Keeping You Awake at Night?

1. Stay aware of your physical state. When we get upset, the pulse rate quickens and the muscles tense. Awareness of your body’s reactions to stress is the first step to maintaining a calm state of mind.

2. Exhale and stay cool. Understanding your breathing will help you stay healthy. Under stress, it’s common to hold your breath or take short breaths. Don’t. When you feel stressed, exhale fully and slow your breathing. It’s a great tool to combat emotional stress.

3. Know when your emotional triggers are reacting. The fight-or-flight response is alive and well in all of us. When stressors kick in, you’re more likely to become defensive, which starts the cycle of emotional distress. Awareness builds the capacity to choose different behavior. It’s as simple as knowing how you want to respond in given situations rather than just exposing your emotions to stimuli that will cause unpredictable reactions.

4. Stop trying to control everything. Trying to control what you can’t fuels emotional distress. Knowing what you can and can’t control is a sign of emotional maturity.

5. When stressed, don’t react—respond. Under emotional distress, you’re more likely to make statements you’ll wish you could take back. Instead, stop talking, breathe deeply, and observe. If you can learn to step back and observe your own distress, or simply stay calm in the face of another’s, you’ll create an opportunity for a positive outcome.

6. Keep the big picture in mind. Don’t tilt over a minor issue. Ask yourself, What are my objectives? Stay focused and don’t give in to an emotionally distressing experience.

7. Become a better listener. Too often we hear what we want to and what we’re conditioned to and not what the speaker is trying to convey. Listening better will make others more responsive to you and enable you to defuse or de-escalate volatile situations.

8. Practice. Some people will need to break habits that have controlled their behavior for years. It requires a conscious decision and perseverance. It starts by knowing the outcome you want and understanding that emotional distress takes too great a toll. It isn’t as easy as "don’t worry, be happy," but it’s a choice we each can make.