In the history of calming down, no one has ever calmed down when told, "CALM DOWN!"
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
"In the history of calming down, no one has ever calmed down when told, "CALM DOWN!""
This may or may not be true. I heard it somewhere and I thought it was hilariously on point. I can't tell you the number of times when my husband and I were in a bit of scuffle and as I raised my voice, he said, "Calm Down!" And, I had to use every ounce of restraint I could muster up to resist the urge of strangling him right there on the spot. (Note: I have only strangled him once and it was when he was teaching me a Jiu Jitsu move and I had his permission. Second Note: I love my hubby) That's another story for another day. Back to my point: Being the "spiritual goddess" that I am, I have done a lot of practice in the fields of calming down. So, I know a thing or two about what works and what does not work.
I first began to learn these very important life skills when I was about ten years old as a gymnast trying to master the back handspring on the balance beam. The back handspring on the balance beam seemed to me more terrifying than any other balance beam skill I knew. A flip seemed much easier because with a flip, you only need to worry about landing your feet. But, with a back handspring you have to first land both hands after flying through the air backward on the beam. One hand can either land on top of the other or closely smashed together because the beam is only four inches wide, that's ten centimeters and on average, the human width of a hand is between three to three and 1/6 inches. Not to mention the fact that when you spring backwards, you must jump backwards at approximately a 45 degree angle. If you go higher than that, you will over rotate and less than that you might end up flat on your back (just in case you are thinking of trying one at home, you have been warned!) I cannot count the number of times where I missed my hands completely and scraped the entire side of my ribs from armpit to hip. Back handsprings on the beam, just like life, are a very delicate balance of power, precision and finding one's balance. If you attempt to do a backhandspring when you are nervous, your body will shake, and more than likely, you won't be successful. A gymnast has to know how to settle her body so she can execute with precision.
The number one rule to follow when learning any new skill is:
ONCE YOU COMMIT DON"T STOP IN THE MIDDLE, KEEP GOING!
And number two, is "STAY CALM!"
So, here are two examples of when staying calm will either save you from ending up in the slammer or prevent you from scraping your ribs on a balance beam but I want to talk about how to stay calm as a caregiver for children and how to teach children to stay calm from a neuroscience perspective.
Let's start first by mentioning my all-time favorite quotes, "All behavior is an attempt to meet a need."
When we are feeling upset, we might behave by yelling or crying. The feeling is never the issue. And, there is a time and place where crying and yelling should be acceptable and one should be able to receive the support and love they need in those moments when they feel flooded with big feelings.
Feelings are never in conflict with other feelings. Where the conflict may arise is in our attempt to meet the need. For example, what if I decide to meet my needs to be heard by screaming and what if the person I am screaming at has a need to be heard, too or a need for silence. So, obviously here, screaming is not an affective strategy for meeting my needs to be heard. I need to learn how to "calm down" so I can communicate in a way so what I have to say can be received by the other party. And, very few people have the ability to hear what is being said when they are feeling angry or being screamed at.
Our ultimate goal is to learn strategies for settling down our nervous system's primal response so we can communicate our needs and get our needs met in a healthy and socially acceptable way.
The best tool we have for "calming down" is our breath. Note here: telling someone who is upset to "take a deep breath" is a lot like saying, "calm down." Giving orders or demands to someone who is in an upset state will not produce the outcome that you are trying to achieve. I know this from being an experienced yoga teacher and attempting to tell my children both. The outcome is always the same with the child yelling back, "I am calm!" or "I am breathing!" I have sought out a variety of different parenting sources in the fields of Non-Violent Communication and Neuroscience and they have helped me tremendously with learning how to parent with connection and purpose.
Here's a summary of facts as it relates to the human body's response to unmet needs and a dysregulated nervous system, AKA: Fight or Flight Response
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE ARE UPSET, ANGRY or NEEDING TO "CALM DOWN"
The Heart Rate Increases
Arterial Tension Increases
Testosterone Level Increase
Left Hemisphere of the Brain becomes more stimulated
Increase in adrenaline
Increase in noradrenaline
Stimulation of adrenal glands
Body releases cortisol, the ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ hormone.
Increase in blood pressure
Increase in breathing rates
Temporary Fight or Flight Response
ALL OF THE ABOVE RESPONSES can become a chronic response to LIFE when left untreated or unregulated: ___ leading to anxiety disorders, panic disorders, ulcers, depression and worst case scenario: suicide!
ALL Of the Above RESPONSES Limit the PRE-Frontal Cortex's Ability to think rationally and logically.
> Someone who is very upset, has trouble thinking clearly in the moment.
It's in everyone's best interest to take a child or adults "upsets" seriously. And, to consider how to be helpful for long-term emotional wellness and physical health. Focusing only on short-term compliance is not enough to build a resilient and emotionally healthy individual. If a child is crying or screaming to get attention, why not give them attention? People will say, "Then, you are rewarding the bad behavior." But from a neuroscience standpoint, you are actually helping them to learn how to regulate their central nervous system. If they need attention and you can give it to them, do. Then, once they are calm, then, you can discuss the behavior and see if you can find strategies that might be more effective the next time they are needing attention.
The old-school model of dealing with tantrums, upsets and really any behavior like crying, screaming or demonstrating anger, is to either shame the person, punish the person or the most common recent approach is to ignore the "bad" behavior and reward the "good behavior."
But there is another method that takes far more effort, training, discipline and dedication and the effects of it are not immediate. It is a lot easier to shame a child who is upset to get them to "shut up" which unfortunately, has been the common practice in parenting and in raising humans but the long-term consequence of using power to "calm a child" is having a child who then, learns to stuff their feelings down, zip their lip and walk around like a ticking time bomb. Just think about it, "How many adults do you know who say, "I am fine." When in all reality their heart is pounding, they are out of breath and their jaw is clenched.
How do we learn how to calm down in a way that is beneficial for the mind, body, and soul?
There is a wonderful buzz word that everyone is using right now called, "MINDFULNESS."
Mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork are all essential tools that every person really needs to have in order to thrive in a highly unstable environment, called life. Mindfulness is simply a way of paying close attention to one's own behavior and physical reactions and responses. It is a way of taking "charge" of one's own mind and steering it in the direction you want the mind to go.
In order to learn how to "calm down" when feeling "upset," you have to practice calming down in a situation when you are feeling calm. Just as you would not teach a gymnast how to do a back handspring during a competition, you don't try to teach a child or an adult how to calm down when they are in the middle of a tantrum or a flooding of feelings. Rather, you teach them the skills when their brain is in a regulated state.
The best way to teach people how to calm down is to create an environment that is calm. If one doesn't experience a calm state how will they know what it means to be calm? For a person that is always reactive due to neurological wiring or patterned behaviors learned from their environment, chances are they don't know how to calm down or what it even feels like to have a calm body.
Here's a practice you can easily do to begin to experience the calm that you desire!
Find a place under a tree, on a blanket or in a room that is serene.
Turn on soft music and lie on your back.
First start with physical cues and mentally repeat to yourself:
I am relaxing my body.
I am relaxing my arms.
I am relaxing my face.
Go through the whole body gently guiding each body part to relax and settle down.
Once, you notice your body relaxing, then, begin to notice what you feel.
This makes an imprint on the brain, it is a way of "encoding" experiences in the long-term memory bank so they can be pulled out later when you need them. Practicing being calm when there is nothing upsetting in your environment will make it easier for you to access the place of calm when the situation is challenging.
Notice your breath.
Notice your heart rate.
Notice your muscles (are they tense or relaxed?)
Notice your jaw (is it tense or relaxed?)
If you are doing this for yourself, place your hand on each body part and actually notice what you feel. "Is the body tense?" "Is the body relaxed?" "Where are you holding tension?"
If you continue to do these simple practices then the next time you find yourself in an upsetting situation, you can gently internally guide yourself to breath slowly.
Mentally say, "I am breathing slowly." Affirm for yourself, "I am calm. I am centered. I am in charge of my body."
Follow along with this short four minute yoga and meditation session as many times as you like until you can do it on your own.
If you like these tips, let me know and I will share some more! Stay CALM and CARRY ON!
Need more information? Check out these books! They are all great. I wish every parent, teacher and human would read it and practice it.