Taylor Swift sure knew what she was doing when she penned the catchy little ditty “Shake It Off”… that’s wise life advice that I seem to have SUCH a hard time learning. When something irks me, which has been known to happen approximately 4,279 times per day (seriously – I need to learn to quit getting so irritated by things…it doesn’t help me in the least), I get massively annoyed – and I can let one idiot and their stupidity put a cloud over an entire day! What a waste! Why I do this, I can’t even begin to explain…I need to learn to embrace the idea of letting go, and just letting the nonsense of the day wash over my shoulders until it is poof! gone. But how?
I have often asked myself the question, ‘Is this the hill that I choose to die on?’…and take it from there. Usually, the answer is no (I have very little interest in perishing on a hill, it seems)…and that helps me to get up and get over it. The thing I need to realize most is that letting go and moving on doesn’t mean that I don’t care anymore – it just means that the only thing in life that I can control is ME…and that moving on is a necessary (and critical) part of adapting to the inevitable changes that happen around us.
Give this article from CNN a read – it’s full of good advice on not sweating the small stuff:
Blowing up over small things takes a strong physical and emotion toll over the years
Research suggests that we can train ourselves to not sweat the small stuff
When the cable guy is a no-show, reframe the situation in a positive light
If you feel anxious about something, think about ways to solve the problem
There are two types of people in this world: those who swoop up their accidentally dropped keys with no complaints and go along their merry way and those who, more often than not, can’t pick them up without cursing or letting out a big, miserable sigh.
An insignificant occurrence, yes, but it’s often the mundane incidents (a whining child, an on-the-fritz printer) that reveal how vastly different human temperaments can be, says Michael D. Robinson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University.
Some people take life’s small slights and setbacks with a shrug, while others freak out, blow up, or fly off the proverbial handle in a loud huff or with silent seething. Why such a yawning gap in behavior? This is a question that scientists have only recently recognized as being significant to health.
Just as life’s most challenging experiences can flood the bloodstream with stress hormones, the smallest hassles can take a toll as well, says Nancy Nicolson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
“The changes are small — a 10 to 15% increase in cortisol levels in response to typical daily annoyances, as opposed to a 100 percent or more increase during very stressful events,” like a college entrance exam. But these small fluctuations “happen more frequently and can have a cumulative effect,” says Nicolson.
Feeling chronically stressed increases the risk of heart disease and weakens the immune system. It can also compromise some types of memory and learning, says Carmen Sandi, Ph.D., the director of the Brain Mind Institute at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. If we could all be more even-keeled (so we didn’t sweat the small stuff), we would enhance our physical and mental health.
Recent research suggests that we can train ourselves to not sweat the small stuff. To be a more even-keeled person, first you need to think like one, says Rosalind S. Dorlen, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in New Jersey. That means using mental strategies that exercise the region of the brain that’s responsible for reasoning, so that it isn’t overwhelmed by the part of the brain that’s involved in emoting. To do that takes practice. Consider every irritating incident as a chance to work out the reasoning area in your brain and you’ll realize that what constitutes a stressor is subjective and that little set-backs will ruin your day only if you let them.
Real Simple presented a few everyday nuisances to experts in the field of emotional regulation and asked, “What would an even-keeled person do?” Here are their answers.
You feel: Inconvenienced
The situation: You put off your errands. You canceled your lunch date. All so you could be home for the cable guy between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. He never shows up.
How to stay calm: Reframe the circumstances. “Thinking differently calms down your brain’s emotional region,” says James Gross, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University. For instance, if you spent your morning lingering over coffee and the paper while waiting, try to view this as a rare, unexpected luxury instead of a waste of time.
It’s also helpful to think of the big picture. As Dorlen puts it: “What’s going on and how you end up feeling depend on where you point the lens.” Perhaps the cable guy simply had more assignments than he could humanly keep up with. This is not to say that you should let it go. You absolutely should call the cable company and express your frustration. But by readjusting your perspective, you can voice your displeasure in a less angry way and still get results.
You feel: Defeated
The situation: You’ve prepared for a presentation for weeks, but you end up blanking on key points. Back at your desk, you’re about to break down in tears as you replay the episode in your head over and over again.
How to stay calm: Focus on the present. After all, “it’s never the stress-inducing event that you’re freaking out about,” says Steven Berglas, Ph.D., a life coach in Los Angeles. “It’s what you’re afraid might happen because of it,” whether that’s being reprimanded by your boss or laughed at by your colleagues.
But that’s not real at the moment; what’s real is that you can take control of the situation. Quell the angst with an impromptu meditation session. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Francisco and the author of Hardwiring Happiness, suggests quietly taking a moment to breathe in and two slow moments to breathe out. “Inhaling speeds up the heart rate,” he says, “and exhaling slows it down.”
At the same time, say to yourself what you feel (I am upset), then let that label disappear from view. “Naming your emotions as you’re feeling them reduces the activation of your emotional brain and engages your reasoning brain,” says Hanson. Now you can focus on fixing the problem, which could be as simple as sending out a recap memo on your presentation that includes a summary and the points that you missed.
You feel: Anxious
The situation: Your husband is running late (though he swore he would be on time). Now you’re going to be late for your appointment, and your toddler just wiped his nose on your skirt.
How to stay calm: Problem-solve. If even-keeled people rarely appear stressed, it’s because they’re too busy looking for answers. A tardy spouse and a soiled skirt aren’t catastrophes to be cursed at but circumstances to be fixed. Dorlen suggests asking yourself, immediately after the offending incident happens, How am I going to solve this?
“Once you phrase the question in your mind, you have awakened the reasoning portion of your brain and put yourself in a position to find an answer,” says Dorlen, the clinical psychologist. “You’re no longer the victim of your emotions.” Next, pretend that you’re a coach with a game plan, such as pulling on a clean skirt, taking your child with you, and texting your husband to meet you at your appointment. Now take action.
You feel: Disrespected
The situation: Somehow, your offer to bring back coffee for an office mate has turned into an order for six complicated lattes. As you rattle off the list to the barista, you notice that she is rolling her eyes.
How to stay calm: Speak positively. To understand why this is important, it helps to know a little brain anatomy. The brain is made up of cognitive and emotional parts, and the emotional part is composed of various circuits, says Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of research in integrative medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia.
These circuits include the reward system, which reinforces positive experiences, and the sympathetic nervous system, which connects the brain to the body and issues a fight-or-flight response when you feel stressed. Positive words (which we grew up associating with something pleasant, such as caring teachers) activate the reward system. Negative words (which we associate with something unpleasant, like playground bullies) spike angry or sad thoughts.
So, if you’re not willing to let it go, say, with a good-natured laugh, “I know this long order is annoying. I wish I had a shorter list, too,” as opposed to “Hey, you’re rude!” The words will calm you, and they will also put the other person in a more generous frame of mind. “Our emotional states reflect those around us,” says Newberg. If you speak pleasant words in a calm tone, chances are, the other person will reply with pleasant words in a calm tone. Starting the exchange in a peaceful way increases the chance that you’ll be sipping on your espresso sooner rather than later.
You feel: Disappointed
The situation: You’ve been planning this cocktail party for weeks. Now that the big day is here, it’s snowing. Heavily.
How to stay calm: Embrace optimism. “Behind every setback, there’s an expectation that things should be different,” says Dorlen.
Even-keeled people are no different, but when things don’t go as planned, they feel hopeful that circumstances will get better. Which in this case may mean thinking, “with fewer people, our gathering will be much more intimate and relaxed. And who doesn’t love that on a cold winter’s night?”
“Optimism buffers the effects of stress—not only for everyday hassles but also for life-altering challenges,” says Madelon Peters, Ph.D., a professor of experimental health psychology at Maastricht University. Optimism is also associated with resilience. That’s why optimists are better able to bounce back after difficult times.
While it’s tough for natural-born pessimists to don rose-colored glasses instantly, they can condition their brains so that it gets easier to do so over time. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, women who participated for two weeks in an imagery and writing exercise in which they imagined an optimal future reported a sustained increase in optimism compared with those who wrote about random topics.
To try this technique, imagine yourself 10 years from now under the best possible, yet still realistic, circumstances. Write down specific details. (Where do you live? What do you love about your life?) Then spend five minutes each day visualizing these details. “Imagery can create vivid and, in this case, positive emotional responses. These images and associated emotions end up living in your memory almost as if they were real,” says Peters. In the short term, compared with the world created in your mind, the once unbelievably aggravating everyday letdowns may become small and surmountable.
The biology of chill
Anyone can become more even-keeled using the mental strategies on these pages, but naturally irascible personalities might need to put in a little extra effort. Temperament, after all, is partly genetic. Think of the brain as a seesaw: On one side are the frontal lobes, the region associated with reasoning; on the opposite side is the amygdala, where emotions, both good and bad, are generated. In between, where the imaginary fulcrum sits, is the anterior cingulate, which mediates the opposing forces.
In each person, one side is inherently more influential than the other, explains neuro-scientist Andrew Newberg, M.D. What results is a person’s temperament (an internal balance or emotional tone), which can shift further to one side or the other depending on external forces. These forces can be traumatic (a divorce), annoying (traffic), or health-related (poor-quality sleep, inadequate nutrition—both of which can trigger chemical changes that compromise brain activity).
For a hotheaded type, whose brain already seesaws toward the emotional side, negative events can exacerbate imbalance. For an even-keeled personality, the brain may tip over to the emotional side only ever so slightly. No matter which group you fall into, just a small push toward the reasoning area of the brain can mean the difference between a run-in with a colleague that ruins your entire weekend and one that you can leave at the office without a second thought.
Great advice, right? I know – yet, I also know how hard it is to remember these things in the moment. I so need to work on this, and remember that I can only control myself and my own actions…everyone else is not my concern. Words to live by! 😉
This article is somewhat related, and I love it! Let’s consider 8 Ways to Make the Most of Your Life:
1. Don’t Put Off Things Until Tomorrow
We all say, “Oh, I’ll do that tomorrow!” What you should really be saying is, “Oh, I’ll do that right now!” Living in the moment and getting things done now are great habits to have regardless of making the most of your life or not.
Living for the now is even better if you want to make the most of your life. It is indeed quite helpful. Give it a try. Leave that procrastination far behind.
2. Get Engaged With Your Community
Whenever you do something, do it with all your heart. Even if you don’t want to do something, give it your heart and soul. You don’t want to regret what you could have done. Get engaged in your community.
Do some activities offering to help in the church, cleaning in the park, or helping the elderly. I’ll tell you, these kinds of things make you feel so special from the inside. The feelings they bring you are so indescribable.
3. Enjoy Yourself At Every Opportunity
Regardless of how you feel, enjoy each moment you are in. It makes life so much easier and valuable when you actually cherish each breath you take on the planet of Earth. You need to be grateful.
When you are grateful for things around you, everything seems so much better. Life seems like a sort of gift from heaven. Do yourself a favor and enjoy yourself at every opportunity. Be grateful for the life you have been given. I am telling you that you will feel a hundred times better than you felt yesterday! Really, it feels great! I can tell you from personal experience.
4. Show Appreciation
Appreciate all you have instead of reaching out for more. You always should, even if things don’t go your way try and appreciate whatever is around you. This can be family, friends, your home, food, or even pets.
Respect these things as they are hard to come by and have no price tag. Appreciate everything you have been given. I guarantee everything will work in your favor. You will start living the life you have always dreamt of. It will make you feel lighter, brighter, and much more happier. I tell you this from personal experience! Give it a try yourself.
5. Be Grateful
Always be grateful. You should be grateful that you have one more day on the face of this Earth. Some would die for just one more single moment on Earth. By appreciating these little things, you can make your experience of life a billion times greater.
There is no greater feeling than being grateful to all that you already have. Some people don’t even have the basic necessities to live life. However, you are lucky and fortunate enough to have the things you already have. So, be happy and glad of the life you have been given. There truly is no greater feeling than gratitude.
6. Help Others In Need
Helping others in need is the primary goal of humanity. In other words, helping people is acting human. Living your life to the greatest has to incorporate and include this goal. Help people whenever you get the chance. Make the most of the life you are living.
If you see that someone you know needs help, offer them your kind help. You know, karma is a major factor in today’s world. What you bring to others you usually get. If you help someone then you too will receive good. Just wait. Your time will surely come. Just have a little patience on your side and things will fall into place.
7. Do Activities You Find Pleasurable
Do activities that truly give you happiness. Go out and do whatever brings you joy, whether it be horseback riding, fishing, partying, or going to a friend’s house just to hangout. Pursue whatever it is that makes you happy every day.
8. Learn New Activities Too
When you learn new activities you push the boundaries to what you already know. You can push the boundaries by learning a new language, traveling the world, or exploring new places. Whatever it is that brightens your horizons is what counts. Just get out there and see what the universe offers you. There is so much out there! Just open your eyes, buddy. You will find the world at your feet. Keep your eyes wide open all the time. But, also… don’t forget to sleep once in a while!
I love this list! It’s so important to do the things that you love, to learn new stuff, and to – above all – be grateful. Our lives, while we may find it sporting to bitch and complain a whole lot, are really not so bad. Be grateful….express gratitude, and even more good stuff will come your way.
In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” – Deepak Chopra