This is part 1 of my two-part blog post series on staying calm in the moment. You can find part 2 here.
When I asked the mums in the More to Mum community to describe how they would like to feel in motherhood, calm was one of the top responses.
Before we have our children, we might imagine ourselves as mothers all blissful and calm. But once we’re in the midst of mothering our children in reality, we realise that staying calm is something that we have to continually work on.
I’m often told that I’m so calm, but in truth, I find this a struggle as much as any other mum.
Don’t compare yourself
There’s really no point comparing how calm you feel, to how calm others appear. We all have different emotional triggers, so what makes one mum feel like losing it, won’t even register for another. We’re all dealing with fluctuating levels of exhaustion, busyness, stress, responsibility, support and self care. Our children are different, and are going through different stages. We all behave differently under pressure. And most importantly, you can’t see what’s going on behind the scenes in someone else’s life or how she feels internally.
I can recall a time when someone said to me that I was incredibly calm as my son was losing the plot. The reality was, on that day, I wasn’t amazingly calm. I was just so exhausted and emotionally spent that I had kind of given up for the afternoon. For my own sanity. I was prepared to pick my battles very carefully and this came across as calm.
We are responsible for our own emotions
Young children, in particular, are unable to regulate their emotions and need our support with this. Sometimes we forget this momentarily, and feel so irritated by their seemingly extreme emotional responses.
But how well do we regulate our own emotions?
There’s no way around it. Regardless of what our children are doing, we are responsible for managing our own emotions.
This is important, not only for ourselves, but for our children, who may be scared or shamed by our more intense, negative emotions, if they surface regularly.
Take preventative measures
Before we jump into strategies for staying calm in the moment, it’s worth mentioning that preventative strategies are also important.
When we look after ourselves, we’re much better equipped to handle stressful things that happen.
What is it that you need to prevent you from getting to that place where you struggle to keep calm?
Do you need to:
- get more or better sleep?
- eat regularly or drink more water?
- exercise more?
- have time to yourself?
- have a more flexible schedule?
- be more organised?
- do things that make you happy?
- change your routine?
No matter how hard we try, stressful things happen, we get triggered, and there will be times when we find it almost impossible to prevent our stress levels from rising. So let’s not aim for perfection in staying calm. No one needs you to be perfect. Staying calm more often than you do currently, would be progress to be proud of.
How to stay calm in the moment
It’s useful to have a set of strategies for staying calm, ready to use when you need them. Because motherhood is full of moments when you WILL need them. You will probably need them every day.
Different strategies will work for different people and in different situations, so you might need to try a few to find the ones that suit you best and then choose the most appropriate one in the moment.
To help you get started with building your own personalised set of strategies for staying calm, here are 16 options for you. I’ll be sharing another 16 strategies in Part 2 of this series.
1. Deep breathing
I’ll start with one of my favourites. Deep breathing calms your nervous system and helps you think more clearly. You can do it anywhere, at any time, with no equipment or preparation. Check out 6 calming breathing techniques I use here.
2. Take a break
Sometimes, we need to step away for a minute or two, to calm down, before we do anything or respond. You can explain what you’re doing to your children; “mummy is feeling angry at the moment and I’m going to go into the other room for two minutes to calm down. Then I will come back.” Or, you could simply distance yourself in the same room, or turn around for a moment, if you feel that’s more appropriate. Once you have removed yourself from the situation, you can use one of the other strategies, to regain your composure.
3. Smile first
I’ve used this one often. Changing your physical state can change your mental and emotional state. So, even a forced smile, can help lower your stress levels and heart rate, and help you feel more calm.
4. Start with “I love you”
Connection is often the key to turning situations around, so saying “I love you” helps to connect you with your child. It also helps focus your mind on something positive, and because you are focused on the love you feel, you’ll find it easier to muster some extra compassion and understanding.
5. Hug it out
Hugging is a more physical alternative to saying “I love you” and of course, they can be done together! Scientists have found that a hug can lower stress levels, balance our nervous system and release physical tension in the body. Longer hugs have a greater effect, so try hugging it out!
6. Pause and shake or move
Try this simple physical and mental break in the heat of the moment. Stop talking. Pause. Shake your hands. Avoid doing anything until you feel calmer. Movement releases tension, and the pause interrupts the escalating emotions. If you prefer something more physical, try squats, lunges or jumps.
7. Use an affirmation
Affirmations help to change your state of mind, by focusing on something you want to be or achieve. When you’re struggling to stay calm you could repeat an affirmation such as: “I am calm in the midst of chaos”, “I can handle whatever today brings”, “peace comes from within me”, “all will be ok” or “this will pass”. It’s important that you choose an affirmation that believe in. That means, if you feel like a fraud when you say “I am calm in the midst of chaos” you could adapt this to “I am learning to be calm in the midst of chaos”.
8. Solve a bigger problem
This strategy takes your focus off your heightened emotions, and moves it to a bigger parenting or other goal. For example, I’ve been focusing on ensuring my son feels connected. So, let’s say we’re trying to get out the door on time and my son is stalling because he wants to show me something. I’m feeling stressed and I’m trying to hurry him up. Ordinarily, I might ignore what he’s saying and impatiently tell him we are leaving now. On the other hand, if I ask myself “how can I help him feel more connected?” I may choose to take a moment to find out what he’s trying to show me, and reassure him that I’m interested and I will look at it when we get back. Or even just take the 1 minute to go and look.
9. Do something silly and laugh
Laughing provides the same emotional release as crying, so when you feel like crying, you could try to laugh instead! I realise that this sounds counter intuitive and difficult but I’ve heard many success stories. Years ago, I heard about a couple who would stand in the bath every time they started arguing. It felt so ridiculous that they would end up laughing and would be able to discuss what was worrying them in a much calmer way.
With children, you could try pulling a funny face, or tickling them. My son likes to play wrestle, so that sometimes works to take the heat out of a situation for us both.
10. Let it out in a different room
Some people find it useful to go into a different room and jump up and down, or say the words you really want to say, without directing it at anyone, or being overheard. When you return, you can reframe your message so it is calmer and more appropriate.
11. Identify what you can control, and accept the rest
Often, we get very worked up about things that we have no, or very little control over. In these cases, our intense emotions can’t change anything about the situation. It’s much more useful to focus on the things you can control, or at least influence, while accepting and letting go of the rest.
12. Identify what’s really going on for your child
Consider that the reason for the escalating situation may not be immediately apparent. For example, your child may be hungry, tired, feeling unwell, scared, lonely, bored, worried, or needing to connect with you.
Additionally, our children have their own unique triggers; the things that make them really upset or angry.
If we understand what’s going on beneath the surface for our children, we can take a more compassionate and helpful approach. We’re less likely to be triggered ourselves if we understand why they are struggling. We may even be able to avoid the situation by taking preventative measures or intervening earlier. And we can focus on solving the problem, rather than being caught up in our emotions.
13. Remember you’re on the same team
This is a mindset shift. When children are pushing our buttons, we can feel like they are the problem or that they’re opposing us. When you reframe that to being on the same team, then you can see them as someone who needs your help and you can work together to solve the real problem.
14. Consider whether you are being triggered
Do you know your emotional triggers? These are the things that make you very angry or upset. When we’re triggered, our intense emotions are not really related to the situation at hand. The situation is stirring up old emotions, that don’t feel good and our reaction has more to do with what’s going on inside us, than what’s happening with our children. I find that when I know my response is caused by something within ME, it’s easier to be calmer and more compassionate with my son.
So, stop and think – why am I reacting like this? Is this really what’s upsetting me? Or is it something else? Something deeper?
15. Talk to someone
Talking about the things that are making you anxious or stressed can help the feelings dissipate. If someone is with you, talk to them, or, if it’s not appropriate in the moment, then confide in a trusted support person as soon as is practical. Make sure you talk to someone who will be compassionate and supportive, rather than someone who will fuel your anger or upset. They may even be able to provide a helpful perspective, or some much needed encouragement.
16. Change your surroundings
Go outside, take a walk (take your children with you if you need to) or just move to a different room or location. Being out in nature has a calming effect. Wherever you go, the change of environment might be enough to interrupt the escalating emotions.
There you have it. The first 16 strategies for staying calm in the moment. You can find another 16 strategies in part 2 of this series.
In the meantime,
- Which of these have you tried before? Did they work for you?
- Which will you try this week?