Whether it's a rude email, unhelpful co-worker, or poor customer service, stressful interactions can sometimes feel like landmines to avoid during the course of the day.
So how can we keep our cool when we start to get hot under the collar? Simple - by focusing on our breathing. Here's a quick mindfulness trick that you can do discretely and immediately:
1. When you feel that elevated stress response start to take shape - a racing heartbeat, dry mouth, sweaty palms, blurred vision, or a stiff neck for example - take a few moments to become aware of, and name, what is happening in the mind and body (eg. irritation/ muscle tightness). Naming your emotions in the moment helps to take away some of their emotional charge.
2. Then, shift your attention to your breathing to help ground yourself in the here and now. Follow the sensations of the breath for a few cycles as it moves in and out. Feel yourself breathing in; and feel yourself breathing out. Take it breath by breath, one breath at a time. See if you can slow your breathing and soften your body a little more on each exhale. Slowing your breathing down in this way sends a message to your nervous system that you are safe, and deescalates the "fight or flight" stress response.
3. After a few breaths, take a final, slightly deeper breath, and make a conscious decision to respond, not react, to the situation in front of you. Ask yourself - what would be the most helpful response from me right now? Sometimes that looks like restating your position, rephrasing your request, or walking away and resuming the interaction at another time.
Whatever you decide, you'll be acting from a place of calm intention, as opposed to automatic reactivity, which is less likely to yield the desired result.
With practice, you'll actually be able to run through these steps pretty quickly, and a mindful pause can pay off big time. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!