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How to remain calm in the midst of chaos

Simple practices that help you feel less overwhelmed and more balanced in times of high stress.

This challenging time is testing all of us. With lives being turned upside down and uncertainty in the air, it’s easy for anxiety and overwhelm to become consistent states of being. This is particularly true for those who are losing salary, navigating children and dependents and/or are dealing with real concerns about the health of themselves and loved ones.

Needless to say, it’s stressful. However, while there is so much that cannot be controlled in this transitional time, we can commit to prioritising simple practices that can be a great support for keeping us balanced, calm and anchored as much as possible as chaos and change unfolds around us. As this quote so poignantly says…

“Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” (source unknown)

With this in mind, here is a 3-step process that helps you to navigate the chaos with peace in your heart.

1. Settle into your cocoon 

For people who are physically distancing, self-quarantining or working from home, how can you get more comfortable? Does your space currently feel like home sweet home? If it’s not sweet enough already, what adjustments can you make to feel happy, relaxed and peaceful?

This could be tidying up and decluttering your spaces or even having a full spring clean. It could be creating dedicated areas for work and/or exercise, or if you’ve got the energy, organising the things that have been on your list for some time, such as that bottom drawer, your closet, paperwork or a bit of gardening. Go at your own pace, and try no to trigger obsession or perfectionism. Simply do what will allow you to sit down, look around and access that satisfying sense of calm. At a minimum, just keep everything clean and tidy. This gives you a sense of control and accomplishment in all of the mayhem. 

A great extension of this is to get intentional with your new routine. Continue with regular ones or start new ones. Think of ways you can separate your day and create some structure. Block out time for work or creativity, cleaning, exercise, checking in with friends or colleagues, reading, writing etc. Allow for diverse, fun, relaxing and social activities among your workload or obligations. If you live with others, come to agreements about housework, and how to best navigate different routines. Have set meal times or breaks to come together for nourishment and socialising.

I suggest you also include setting specific times for checking the news. While staying informed of what’s happening is important, so is having boundaries. Limit your consumption to the bare necessities. Give your brain and body a break from the sense of urgency that comes through when being forever connected. If you’re working from home or finding that your screen time has increased, it’s also a great way to get moving, do something with your body and give our eyes a rest from technology.

2. Practice sitting in silence 

I know you’re probably tired of hearing it, but meditation really is a gold standard when it comes to accessing peace in the chaos. If you already meditate please continue, or better yet, increase your daily practice. Stay present for how your relationship to meditation might be different during this time. What new feelings are in your body? What new distractions or thoughts have arisen?

If you’re new to meditation, the first thing to do is choose to give it a go. This choice includes releasing any previous notions, attempts or ‘failures’ to practice in the past. Today is a new day.

Meditation is simple, but also a scary endeavour. Your mind will try to find every excuse possible, from ironing your socks to double-cleaning your windows, only to avoid sitting down and becomimg aware. This is the moment to face your discomforts. 

How do you begin?

Choose a time-frame that feels manageable. If you’re brand new, set an alarm for 5 minutes, or even 1 minute. Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed and arrange yourself in any way that is supported and comfortable. You could sit cross-legged on the floor (with a pillow beneath your bum, propping up your hips slightly), sit or lay on the couch, sit up in a chair or lay on the bed. You can be in silence, or play some calming music. You can close your eyes or keep them open, gently focussing on one unmoving spot.

Now what? Turn your focus inwards. Start noticing how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Most importantly… suspend any judgements or storytelling. Get OK with what’s arising. If flashes of emotions come up, or strange thoughts and ideas emerge out of nowhere, stay in a state of observance. If you start clinging onto a thought or desire, such as playing out scenarios in your head or feeling yourself be carried away by wants and cravings, just choose to let it go and come back to observing. Like the clouds in the sky, allow them to gently pass through while you watch without judgement. 

When emotions, particularly challenging ones arise, relate to them without attachment. For example, instead of thinking ‘I am afraid.’, try to say to yourself ‘This is how anxiety feels.’ No thumbs up or thumbs down, just a neutral observation.

Remember, the aim is not to become a master or buddhist monk. Drop any goals and commit to practicing simply so you can feel more able to nurture a calm state of mind. This practice will allow you to have an inner state of peace as your anchor while outer environments shift and change.

3. Find stillness

As you go about your day, start to become vigilant with what’s happening inside of you. This is how we begin to integrate our meditation within our daily lives.

What do I mean by this? Start becoming aware of how your body feels, and the thoughts that arise as you engage with your day, for example during a conference call, when you’re working or talking with others. Notice any sensations or emotions that may come and go, but try not to get tangled up in them. Try to catch yourself before you rush into reaction, such as going into defence, or arguing with your partner or kids.

When it feels like we don’t have any control, we can be triggered into trying to control everything! Try to transcend this desire to control and fix. Resist getting pulled into judgements, assessments and obsessive thoughts about something that happened, or how you think something ‘should’ be. If you find yourself getting caught up in drama, take a break and fall back into stillness within yourself.

During times of heightened stress, it’s only natural to find it harder to navigate and communicate with others. But as we notice our own reactions, we can begin to hit pause before things escalate in a way we didn’t want or intend. We can also take responsibility for our own reactions and emotions, and choose to be anchored to our own inner stillness as external situations try to pull us in so many different directions. 

I hope these steps prove useful, and you feel more able to access calm in all of this chaos. 

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