Well-Being//

How to Stay Calm When the People Around You Are Stressed

Strategies to help you keep your cool when everyone seems tense.

10'000 Hours/ Getty Images
10'000 Hours/ Getty Images

As we continue to deal with the challenges that come with the pandemic, it’s only natural to feel stressed from time to time — and you might notice that your colleagues, friends, or family members seem tense as well. While we want to be supportive of the people in our lives, being in contact with all that stress can have a negative domino effect, and further prevent us from staying calm ourselves. 

We asked our Thrive community to share with us one way they stay calm and centered when those around them seem stressed and irritable. Which of these strategies will you try?

Take three deep breaths

“The one thing I do to stay calm is focus on my breathing. I make sure I am taking deep breaths. This prevents my body from reacting to the stress around me. If people are in the same room as I am, I might try to be more subtle about my breathing, but still making sure I am breathing in and out as deep as possible. Taking at least two or three deep breaths can really make a difference.” 

—Larry Freshler, HR director, Spokane, WA 

Set a one-minute gratitude timer

“I always find my calm in high-stress situations with a gratitude practice. Close your eyes  and as you breathe, think of what you’re thankful for with each breath. This will lift your spirits and get your positive thoughts flowing. Set an alarm for one minute and start there. If you feel good after one minute, repeat the alarm!”

—Olivia Bowser, founder of Liberate, Los Angeles, CA

Remind yourself to focus on your own energy

“Whenever I get off a call or Zoom with someone who has stressed me out, I take a moment to remind myself, ‘That’s their energy, not my energy.’ During the course of the pandemic, I have made a conscious effort to distinguish between my fears and others. Taking a moment to remind myself of this reality after calls that are stress-inducing has made a huge difference.”

—Eva Wisnik, founder of Wisnik Career Enterprises, N.Y.

Come from a place of compassion

“In moments where I feel I may be on the brink of taking on the negativity of someone else, I try to find compassion for the person who is visibly stressed. Aside from taking things personally, a common reaction to people who are visibly stressed is to judge them. I try and remain rooted in a place of compassion because we have all been there at some point in time. I remind myself that whatever is impacting their mood so drastically must be really difficult. Finding compassion can remind us not to take things personally and create an opportunity to connect with someone on a deeper level to offer support.”

—Kimberly Smith, resiliency life transition coach, Houston, TX

Tap into a happy memory

“Once tension creeps into the office, it can become palpable and raise anxiety levels for everyone around.  When I sense other people are stressed, I place my hands on my desk, palms-down. Then, I close my eyes, even if it’s only for a few seconds, and I think of the place that I always enjoyed as a child. It’s calming for me to envision the gentle waves of the lake with me watching them sparkle as I lay on the dock, feeling the warmth of the sun. This little exercise immediately grounds and centers me.”

—Loralyn Mears, Ph.D., N.Y.

Try the “A.B.C.” method 

“It’s so easy to take on the energy of others. To help myself stay centered in a high-stress environment, I practice the A.B.C. method: awareness, breath, choice. Awareness is the first tool I use. The second is breathing. Every breath helps me stay calm. The third is conscious choice. I choose to remain calm while offering support to others.”

—Verna Fisher, soul catalyst, Escondido, CA

Start your day with a meditation

“I try to start my mornings with a meditation, and it gives me a sense of calm to carry me through the day. It varies day to day from three minutes to even forty, depending on how much time I have, but I try to never miss this space. If there’s something bothering me or that I want to reinforce during the day, I search for an assisted meditation on that topic.”

—Brunella Mori, senior project manager, Peru

Hear the person out

“First, I feel it is important not to dismiss what they are feeling by saying something like, ’It will be OK.’ They may be living through something crazy or scary. If you can, take a few minutes to just let them vent or share. Don’t judge, just listen. If I feel that I can help, I may offer my suggestions but not to dismiss what they are going through, but just to be a support. I then try to take a break from my screen by stepping away for a moment. This is a great way for me to escape the craziness of our world and remember what is important.”

—Kathy Boyd, instructional designer, Snoqualmie, WA

Write down one thing you can control

“While we can’t control what happens to us or around us, we can definitely take stock of how we react and reflect our own emotions. When others around me are stressed I like to write down the things I do have control over. Keeping a list gives me perspective and the act of writing something down is calming in and of itself. It always helps me reflect and refocus.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, management and change consultant, France

Try whistling

“One way I stay calm when others are stressed is to whistle. This is also very calming for your pets. I tried this with our family’s puppy. He tilted his head and began to relax. Whistling can quickly shift our energy and help us feel centered when the people around us are stressed or tense.”

—Maxine Bargrasser, artist and writer, N.Y.

Offer your support

“When I notice that someone around me is irritable, I firstly remind myself that it is about them, not me. I find it really grounding to connect with the breath to help me stay centred and calm, and instead of asking ‘What’s wrong?’ I ask, ‘How can I support you?’ This subtle change in language feels less confrontational, and allows me to assist the recipient in a way that feels truly supportive to them in that moment.” 

—Charlotte Swire, yoga reacher, Manchester, U.K.

Take a mindful break and immerse yourself in a “Meditative Story” here.

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