One of life's greatest challenges is how to stay calm in the face of adversity. When we experience difficult and/or unpleasant situations, our minds tend to focus on the emotional responses that arise as a result of these situations and we lose the present moment.
We experience adverse situations every day. For example:
• A meeting, performance, presentation that causes us anxiety
• A heated discussion or argument with our partner, family, or friends that makes us angry
• A scary encounter or experience that incites fearful emotions
Ideally, we would stay calm in these situations so that we could respond in the most appropriate manner.
However, these situations tend to cause us to feel as if our physical and/or mental security is under threat; triggering a fight or flight response.
When we are in fight or flight mode, our nervous system releases hormones from our adrenal glands (i.e. adrenaline) that prepare us to respond by fighting or fleeing.
The limbic system of our brain is responsible for our emotions and helps us identify potential threats that trigger the fear-based responses.
The frontal lobe of our brain is responsible for our ability to reason, critical thinking, and communication.
When we experience the fight or flight response, the frontal lobe is unable to communicate with the limbic system, inhibiting us from identifying the seriousness of the threat, remaining calm, and communicating clearly.
Another result of the fight or flight response is that the muscles in our body contract in preparation for a fight. This causes our chest to get tight, inhibiting the maximum flow of oxygen and optimal brain function.
We must return to the present moment in order to overcome the fight or flight response.
In the present moment, we are able to think clearly and accurately assess the most appropriate response for the situation.
And, the most effective way to return to the present moment is by refocusing our attention on our breathing.
By focusing on our breath, we allow ourselves to stay calm and respond in a way that we will not later regret.
Using Breathing in Our Daily Life
This focus on breathing can help us overcome many of our everyday challenges.
For example, we may have been promoted into a position at our job that includes new responsibilities. The new role has a higher level of responsibility and also more exposure to senior leaders.
It would be very normal for one to feel anxious energy when entering into this new environment. Though we may not be consciously fearful of our new responsibilities, we may feel our heart beat accelerate as we approach the unknown.
This reaction is representative of the fight or flight reflex.
But, by focusing on breathing steadily – for example, 4 seconds in-breath and 4 seconds out-breath – we bring our consciousness back to the present moment. Breathing in this way also releases the oxygen needed to relax our body and calm our mind.
Having returned to a place of calm, we are free to communicate in the most optimal manner.
Another example is when we are in a heated argument with our partner, family member, or friend. Many times, our emotions overflow and neither party can remember what was said.
Instead of responding to what the other person is saying with an open mind, we often respond with a mind clouded by our emotions.
These emotions have us in fight mode. We're not interested in accepting any of what might be being said, regardless of its validity, because we are solely focused on attacking back.
In the end, both parties are damaged and the situation is left unresolved.
By breathing, we can remain calm and truly listen to the other person. This will allow us to resolve the conflict and determine what can be done differently in the future so that the argument is not repeated.
It is much more important to come back to harmony in our relationships than it is to win every fight.
When we breathe through life's challenges, we find calm within and bring peace without.