My mum has a trick for instant calm, passed down from her mother and her mother before that.
It works better outside or in a barn, but there’s plenty of ways to replicate it in modern life:
When you’re angry, dunk your head in a bucket of ice-cold water.
If no buckets are available, a tap or hose to the back of the neck works just fine. It’s possible to be disgruntled after a cold shower, but almost impossible to be angry.
For added effect, dip your toes in too. They can be hot, angry little fellas, but they do love a cold swim.
Humans have extraordinary brains but they’re difficult to drive.
The problem is that our brain is so powerful — so good at imagining the various possible states of reality — that our body doesn’t realize it’s not real.
A few hundred years ago, some writer who fancied himself a philosopher pointed this out with the witty phrase, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
We’ve all drifted into a dangerous thought and, before you know it, you’re there: heart pumping and mind racing, vividly day-dreaming the worst possible outcome as if it were happening right now.
But it’s not really happening.
It almost certainly never will.
And even if it does, worrying about it won’t help.
So you may as well think about something nice instead.
Here’s a powerful shield against anxiety that we can take everywhere.
Meditation takes advantage of it, but we don’t have to meditate to quiet anxious thoughts or help us sleep.
The fastest way to reduce stress is to take a breath and a half.
In the 1930s, scientists found that all mammals have this automatic breathing pattern that helps them calm down. It helps us offload CO2 and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system — aka rest & digest mode.
- Take a breath through your nose.
- Before breathing out, take another little breath through your nose to fill up your lungs.
- Release your breath naturally through your nose or mouth
- Repeat from step 1 a couple more times.
And that is Mother Nature’s Valium.
Drop it anytime — there’s no maximum dose.
You don’t need me to tell you that life can be pretty bleak sometimes.
All the great philosophers from Cicero and Buddha to Louis CK have nailed it: life is suffering.
Ironically, it seems that the reason that life is suffering is to keep us alive.
There’s a little old nut-shaped part of your brain called the ‘amygdala’ that controls how you feel about stuff.
The amygdala is that miserable, mean, pessimist we all have inside us.
It’s our own little Eeyore living in our heads, seeing the bad side of everything, scared at every turn; certain that taking it will turn out for the worst.
It’s the reason that we have a negativity bias, and tend to see things as threats.
But guess what?
It’s also the source of our compassion and empathy.
That’s why the best way to stop your anxiety and depression is to help someone else with their problem — no matter how large or small.
You distract your Eeyore by helping other people with theirs.
It works every time.