The Key to Calming Down and Finding Peace

How do you calm down and find peace?

Posted Nov 20, 2016

How do you calm down, gain perspective, and have the best quality of life each day? 

What helps people is as different as the people who need help. Staying open to every resource you find is good, because some of the things that help you deal with catastrophe—or just plain stress—may take you by surprise.

A therapy client of mine discovered following a heart attack that he had a deep capacity for prayer. He never suspected that he had a gift for finding peace in this particular activity. Another client who couldn’t stand any of “that Buddhist, be-here-now, Eastern stuff” found that meditation helped her the most when her daughter got sick.

There are so many things we can choose to do that help us to have a better life. In her book, Letters to a Young Therapist, Mary Pipher writes like a woman in love when she describes her relationship to swimming, and how it awakens, heals, relaxes, and rejuvenates her.  In water she solves her thorniest problems and re-visits the happiest events. Commenting on the “primordial nature” of this activity, she writes: “We are made of water, once long ago we lived in water, and with swimming we return to water.” And more simply, “I don’t think anything beats swimming.”

I sent Pipher’s reflections on swimming to a friend in Cleveland who was awash with anxiety after divorcing and losing her job in the same year. She had once loved to swim and, as I predicted, she resonated with Pipher’s enthusiasm.

“But it’s fifteen minutes for me to get to the pool,” she told me, “ and with changing and showering it takes up too much time. Plus, I don’t like running into people in a bathing suit, the way I look. No way I’m going to swim now.”  Ditto for hiking or dancing or getting a massage or anything else that might help her to feel better. 

Nothing will help you if you don’t have the motivation to act. You can’t be like the person who lies in bed shivering, but won’t get up to get another blanket because he tells himself he’s too tired. Most of us seek help from experts when we haven’t begun to do the things we know we need to do for ourselves.

Then there’s that small matter of discipline. It helps to break a goal into small steps and take the first one. A writer friend from Oskaloosa, Kansas, described herself as dangerously overweight when she received a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of forty-six. She had lost 190 pounds when I saw her last, some years post-diagnosis.

“I couldn’t fathom losing 100 or 150 pounds, and never in my wildest imagination could I picture losing 190” she wrote, “but I knew I could lose one pound. That was doable, achievable and possible, so I simply lost one pound 190 times.”

Crises can become an opportunity to live more fully and healthfully, or to make some bold and courageous act of change in an important relationship. A crisis, however, can also be the most difficult time to direct our attention to the beauty of the moment or to enhance a relationship we never worked on to begin with. Crises evoke anxiety, which, by its nature, drives worry and rumination and sets your brain on overdrive. 

As I suggest in The Dance of Fear, don’t wait for the Universe to send you a great big lesson in fear, vulnerability, and loss. We are better able to deal with the hard stuff if we’ve already begun the process of coming to terms with the unpredictability and unfairness of life in our calmer moments.

There are so many resources out there to help us.  Find one that speaks to you. Stick to it for three months and it will become a habit.