Eight Skills for Handling Any Family Situation
It is hard for us to achieve calmness. This is true because we may experience lifelong agitation as a result of early adverse experiences, because all human beings regularly experience anxiety and also because we have a brain that naturally races. You’re probably aware of the role that anxiety plays in our difficulties with calmness and you may also be aware of the lifelong negative effects of early trauma. But you may not be aware that our brain is built to do a certain sort of work and never really stops doing it, even for much of the time that we sleep or try to sleep. This racing brain of ours interferes with our ability to maintain calmness. It is hard to be calm or remain calm if your brain is racing along, intent on thinking about something.
No doubt you would love to be able to deal with the difficulties in your family life calmly. Yet calmness is hard to attain, because anxiety is part of our nature, because this racing brain of ours is also part of our nature, because the challenges of living agitate us, distract us, and unsettle us, because we get in the habit of countenancing thoughts that rattle us, and for many other reasons as well. And even if we do manage to attain calmness in one part of our life—say, during our meditation practice or while walking in nature—that same calmness may prove elusive or unavailable when we step into our family circle and must deal with the problems that are making family life feel so difficult. We have two truths to reckon with: that calmness is hard to attain; and that it is hardest to attain when we need it the most.
Fortunately there are many strategies and techniques available to you that can help you achieve and maintain a reasonable level of calmness. There are breathing techniques; relaxation techniques; cognitive techniques; detachment techniques; reorienting techniques (turning away from the stimulus that is agitating you); mindfulness techniques; discharge techniques (like “silently screaming” to release anxiety); and many more.
The following are some anxiety management techniques that you might want to try:
1. Deep breathing
The simplest—and a quite powerful—anxiety management technique is deep breathing. By stopping to deeply breathe (5 seconds on the inhale, 5 seconds on the exhale) you stop your racing mind and alert your body to the fact that you wish to be calmer.
2. Cognitive self-help
Changing the way you think is a powerful anti-anxiety strategy. You can do this straightforwardly by 1) noticing what you are saying to yourself; 2) disputing the self-talk that makes you anxious or does not serve you; and 3) substituting more affirmative, calming or useful self-talk. This three-step process really works.
A variation on strategies one and two is to use them together by “dropping” a useful cognition into a deep breath, thinking “half” the thought on the inhale and “half” the thought on the exhale. Incantations that might reduce your experience of anxiety include “I am perfectly calm” and “I trust my resources.” Experiment with some short phrases and find one or two that, when dropped into a deep breath, serve to calm you.
4. Physical relaxation techniques
Physical relaxation techniques include such simple procedures as rubbing your shoulder and such elaborate procedures as “progressive relaxation techniques” where you slowly relax each part of your body in turn. Doing something physically soothing can prove really useful to help you calm yourself.