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Keep Your Cool! How to Stop Meltdowns in Their Tracks

Keep calm and carry on with these 12 strategies for coping with daily hassles.

Too much to do. One annoyance after another. Unexpected disappointments. “Customer service” that provides no service.

Small daily hassles can lead to negative emotions that are hard to manage. The tension builds, and the next thing you know…MELTDOWN!

For some, a meltdown means bursting into tears. For others,

Image by Chirod Rathod, CC 2.0, commons.
Source: Image by Chirod Rathod, CC 2.0, commons.

it’s an out-of-control expression of anger. For still others, it’s being a sarcastic jerk. In any case, it’s not pleasant to realize that you've just had an adult temper tantrum.

To prevent meltdowns over daily frustrations, try the 12 strategies below. (Note: If you have serious anger problems or related psychological issues, that’s a different story. See a therapist for help.)

Prevent Meltdowns Before They Start

Shifting your attitude and preparing before difficult situations can often be enough to prevent meltdowns. Try the three tactics below:

1. Identify your trigger situations for meltdowns and make a plan.

Knowing yourself and your weaknesses can often help you sidestep frustrating situations before they occur. For example, I know that a weak spot of mine is coping with technology. I hate to admit how many times I've been rude or overly demanding in these situations. Now, when I bring in my computer for repair, I make a list of concerns and questions and even remind myself to be polite and respectful to the techs. The same technique can work in the doctor’s office or before a talk with a significant other. Remind yourself of your goal: It’s not to rant; it’s to solve a specific problem.

On a deeper level, ask yourself why you let little things get you down so often. The answer could lie in an inappropriate sense of entitlement—that you are special and that these things shouldn’t happen to you. Or maybe you have the belief that life should run smoothly all the time. Challenge these beliefs!

2. Understand why daily hassles are so disturbing.

It's not just you. There’s a good reason why many people lose their composure when faced with small irritants.

In her book The Stress-Proof Brain, stress expert Melanie Greenberg explains why everyday stressors can sometimes be more toxic than major life events. According to Greenberg, daily hassles erode your peace of mind because they occur frequently and accumulate so quickly that there may be no time to recover from any one of them. Since you may already be depleted from coping with a more serious event, the new stressor, however tiny, feels like the last straw.

3. Get to know your unique stress signals.

Learn from your previous meltdowns. What are the first clues that you are about to lose it? Are there physical signs—rapid heartbeat or quickened breathing, for example? Are there emotional signs—self-talk about others that is angry and judgmental, perhaps? If so, recognize these red flags and use the strategies below.

In the Situation

So, let's say you sense you could be going off the rails and need to get a grip on yourself. Here's how to get back on track:

4. Reappraise.

Tell yourself this small situation is a challenge, not a problem.

5. Be realistic.

Frustration is the feeling that results when you are prevented from reaching your goals. The antidote: Realism. Adjust your expectations for the day when you have a technology breakdown, your child gets ill, or an unforeseen event occurs.

6. Take deep breaths.

If you realize your stress response is rising up, make the decision to take deep breaths to slow your breathing. This decision itself will help you reduce your stress and stay in control.

7. Ask assertively for what you need from the other person.

You’ve reviewed your own weaknesses in #2 above. If appropriate, ask directly for what you need. For example: “I’m not great at tech stuff. Could you teach me how to deal with this problem in the future?” Using assertiveness skills will help you speak up for yourself while respecting the other person.

8. Have a few helpful mantras in mind.

For a quick way to reorient your thinking, use a mantra. Create your own or repeat one of these simple sayings as often as needed:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • I will solve this problem, one way or another.
  • I can handle this.
  • We can work it out.
  • Things just take time.

9. HALT!

“HALT” is an acronym for “Never let yourself get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired,” a motto from the 12-step tradition. If you need to HALT, talk to a friend, eat something, or find a way to get some R & R. Remind yourself that taking breaks actually will make you more productive in the long run, as described in this blog.

10. Soothe yourself with kind self-talk.

When your emotions are getting out of control, try a little self-compassion.Tell yourself, for example: “Yes, this is difficult, but it will only take a little longer. Hang in there.” “You’re doing fine. Keep going.” “You’re doing the best you can.”

11. Empathize with the other guy. If an interaction is hard for you, it’s probably hard for the other person, too. Treat her with respect and give her some empathy. Example: “It must be tedious to have to explain the same thing over and over.”

When All Else Fails

12. Apologize.

Let’s face it, you can’t be perfect and sometimes you’ll behave like a jerk. When that happens, apologize! For a salesperson, a simple, “I’m sorry I lost my temper,” will suffice. For significant others, including spouses and colleagues, a good apology needs to be heartfelt and provide healing for the other person. For the how-to, consult our PT experts, Guy Winch here and Harriet Lerner here.

The Take-Home Message

Unless you are a saint or a sage, you will have meltdowns from time to time. Prevent them, cope better, or learn to apologize when you’ve mistreated someone. Eventually, you’ll grow a longer “fuse” and feel a hard-won pride that you can stay calm, cool, and collected amid most of the slings and arrows of daily life.

© Meg Selig, 2017

If you enjoyed this blog, you may want to read these related blogs:

Selig, M. “How Do Work Breaks Help You? 5 Surprising Answers

Winch, G. “The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology

Lerner. H. “The Nine Rules for True Apologies

Greenberg, M. “Find Relief from the Stress of Life’s Daily Hassles

Selig, M. "The Assertiveness Habit"

For more blogs by Meg Selig, scroll to the bottom of this page. For more tidbits on health, happiness, and habits, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn by scrolling down to my photo and clicking on the appropriate icon. Thanks for your interest in the Changepower blog!

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