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Carolyn Hax: How to cultivate calm during a stressful move

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
4 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: You once mentioned a friend of yours who, despite going through some really difficult things, managed to keep a calm outlook. You’ve noted that’s an attitude one can cultivate. Couldn’t agree with you more, but how? I’m annoyed with myself about how stressed I’ve been moving homes. Do you have any wisdom to share on what has helped you? I’m aware of my issues, and I’m getting help, but are there steps I can take to be a chiller me?

— Stressed

Stressed: If calm isn’t where you are, then look at it as the place you want to be, a destination you can make plans to reach and hold in your mind.

So, you’re not calm about the move. (Don’t beat yourself up. Moving is awful.) All you can do now is take steps to get yourself there somehow; you can’t change the past.

What steps? As always, when you’re trying to move yourself somewhere emotionally, go for the low-hanging fruit. Forgive yourself for losing your cool. “I’m human, and this is hard, and it got the best of me. I’m still okay.”

Then, take progressively bigger steps:

· Take breaks. Unless the van is pulling in the driveway right now, you have five minutes.

· Make lists. Breaking tasks into pieces and offloading them from your mind can help tame anxiety.

· Cross all nonessentials off the list. It’s fine to start out being ambitious, but if an ambitious to-do list has you spinning, get realistic.

· Find a reliable source of perspective. It’s hard to stay overwhelmed, I think, about the mundane when you have an eyeful of sunset or starry sky or ocean or mountain vista. We are blips, all of us. That can be depressing or comforting, depending on your mood, but when you’re in need of reminders that It Just Doesn’t Matter, whatever It is, nature has your back.

These are all specific, but if you squint, as a group, they are a blueprint for remaining calm. Recognize your bad time as just a bad moment, and know that it will pass. Look forward instead of back, breathe, break scary things down to size and hand over whatever you can to the sky.

Re: Stress: I’ve developed the habit of asking myself whether freaking out over THIS THING RIGHT NOW is worth it. In the end, there just aren’t that many things worth freaking out about. But I also don’t punish myself for the anxiety; sometimes I can talk myself out of it, and sometimes I can’t. It takes practice, patience and tolerance for imperfection.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: This reminds me of something I do: When I’m upset, I remind myself of a similar situation I’ve been in before, then recall how long it took me to feel better. So I’ll think of this bad moment I’m in now as being about the same size/scale/pain level as X, then I’ll recall I felt better with X after about three days, or a month, or whatever. Then I think, “Yeah, I can do three days/a month/a whatever,” because I’ve done it before. There’s something incredibly reassuring about that.

Other readers’ thoughts:

· I find it helpful to seek out ways to do the opposite of whatever is stressing me out. If I feel stuck, I look for ways to move; if I am being run ragged, I try to find a minute to sit in one place.

· What helps me is asking the question, “Now what?” As in: “I wish I were calmer about this move, but I’m not, so now what?” That kicks my brain into gear to do something to alleviate my stress, rather than allowing it to beat me up for not being calmer.