I visited family recently and the kids had a Disney cartoon on while they played. It was something called “The Lion Guard," which is a continuation of “The Lion King" featuring young animals in the Pride Lands. A group of animals protect the other animals from, well, other animals trying to eat other animals. In this particular episode, the Guard protected a herd of zebras. What caught my attention: the rallying cry and actions taken by the zebras as a pack of hyenas hunted them.
“Panic and run!" shouted the sentry zebra.
Followed by wildly running in circles.
Because what else do zebras do?
For that matter, how many people in our lives become human zebras the moment an emergency arises?
If life does nothing else, it proves too frequently that it is always game to challenge us to a bout of Fight Or Flight. Who needs hyenas when there are daredevil children, bosses with issues, bad drivers, inconsiderate louts, angry lovers, unexpected medical diagnoses, sudden layoffs, politics, and the ever-present, over-arching, sickeningly inventive randomness of an existence that loves to throw tangents of disaster at the lines of what we hope to be nice, easy days?
It’s a wonder society hasn’t implemented large gathering spaces for communal panic-and-run sessions to get the inevitable fight or flight responses out of our systems. Tire us out, so to speak. Maybe that’s what Facebook is for? Or pubs?
At any rate, these constant adrenaline hits make it difficult to keep a cool head during emergencies or even small, everyday interactions, and in life there are instances when a cool head is not only preferred, but vital. While this can definitely fall under the Easier Said Than Done category, it is far from impossible.
Here are some effective ways to take control when you need to keep a cool head in a stressful situation:
One of the best ways to keep a cool head is to remove your “self" from the equation. The first impulse of Fight or Flight is protect that amorphous thing that you know as “you" at all costs. The ego and ID are part of that package. In a stressful situation those two are as effective as malware at hampering efficient function.
One of the main reasons we lose our heads is the sudden fright that people might see us as less than what we imagine we project, a fear which pretty much guarantees people will see us as less than what we’d like.
A common example: you see your child has jumped off a swing and injured herself; even as you rush to her side, somewhere in your head you’re thinking you’ll be judged. Oh my god, people will think I’m a bad parent, how could she do this! This mode of thought clouds your judgment. Rather than take control of the situation, you become a reactionary mess.
If you can step outside yourself and see the larger picture, that she needs you to be calm so that she isn’t driven into an even worse state of fear and pain, you instantly become a healer. It’s amazing how clear things can become when you’re not worried about how everything reflects upon you.
Stepping outside yourself is even effective in the workplace. Say the boss is hot for a report that needed to be out 30 minutes ago, yet he only gave it to you to compile 10 minutes ago. He’s an unpleasant, wandering cloud of fear, sweat, and adrenaline as he attempts the classic bullying maneuver: badger you into feeling small to cover up his lack of planning.
When he comes around to ask if it’s done yet, take control of the situation. Nothing derails a raging bull like calmly telling it to sit. “I need those stapled," you can say without acknowledging his ego; it’s not a statement, it’s a directive while you continue to work toward the goal. You’re letting him know that you’re aware of the urgency, and his help (either by actually helping or by simply going away) would be much appreciated.
We often lose our cool in work situations because we automatically think we have to tackle emergencies alone. “The boss dumped this on me" is a common refrain. Me, myself, and I. Maybe the boss won’t be the one to help you out, but you’re only you: fine and enough by yourself. Don’t be afraid to seek the assistance of your colleagues (or if out of work, your family or friends).
Panic on your part does nothing for efficiency or productivity, whereas not beating yourself up because someone has set you up to fall can go as far in seeing a task through as having another pair of hands to help.
Either way, you’ve again managed to step outside the theatrics of the situation, leaving you somewhat in control of its resolution.
Do we panic and run in matters of love? When don’t we? There are shelves and shelves of books telling us how to handle a love bomb, but none of them begin, “Shut the hell up, stupid." If you can tell yourself that and not immediately want to defend yourself, you’re prepped for a calm head in a hot situation.
The word “stupid" was placed there intentionally. Consider it the hyena to your emotional zebra. Many hyena-words will be used during a heated argument; do you panic and run or do you face each and realize you don’t know everything; you’re not always right. Self-reflection shortens arguments, and even when the other person is dead wrong, your becoming a zebra-hyena hybrid does nothing to bring you peace.
If you can find it in you to exercise just a bit more patience – with yourself and with the other – your clearer head will help bring about a resolution. Think of it like existing on an emotional astral plane: you’re able to see yourself not as a separate entity embroiled in a fight, but as one of two merged components: a dynamic whole temporarily out of balance. Seeing this may help you de-escalate as needed.
Car crashes. Bar brawls. Sudden falls. Fires. We don’t need a long list of things that can go wrong in life. We know. What we need is the clarity to see ourselves out of those situations as best we can. We need to be helpful, not exacerbate. A moment’s clear thought in an emergency situation is often the difference between life and death.
Your emotions, unexamined, can tie your hands and feet in an emergency better than any rope. Examined, they can be harnessed into highly effective tools. Examination happens beforehand. Before any emergency, before any mishap, if meditation hasn’t become part of your life, think about trying it now. It doesn’t hurt. It’s fairly simple. Plus, it’s one of the few things in life that, even if you get it completely wrong, you’ve still benefited.
Knowing yourself a bit better before you need to be heroic means you’ll be the calm head when sparks and calamity have everyone else running in circles. You’ll even be able to use something like a Disney cartoon, of all things, to possibly help others. The goal in any stressful situation is to assess, adapt, rethink, repair, resolve. Life may not have a Lion Guard protecting us from harm, impulse, and annoyance, but we’ve got something even more advantageous: our wits. When held close and used well, they work wonders.