I think the reason I like this concept so much is that it reminds me of my husband. Calm is definitely his superpower.
Picture this. Warning: this story involves poop.
My 8-month-old daughter's crying because she's overtired. I need to change her before I put her down for her nap, so I leave my 2-year-old son peacefully looking at books and take her to her bedroom. I remove her diaper, which is poopy (of course), and reach for a wipe. There are none left. I can't leave her on her change table, so I gingerly carry her into the bathroom. Despite my best efforts, poop gets everywhere. On the bathroom floor, on her clothes, and of course on my hands. Lovely.
In the meantime, I can hear my son proudly exclaiming that he's done something "all by myself". Uh oh. I wonder what he's done.
I peek into his room on my way back to the change table. He's pulled down his own pants, sat down on his potty, and pooped. This should make me proud. Except for the fact that he's now sitting on his bed. And he hasn't yet learned to wipe.
I freak out. This is too much poop for me to handle! My husband hears me, comes upstairs, and asks me what's wrong. "Poop!" I yell at him, "Poop everywhere!!".
He looks around, assesses the situation, and somehow knows exactly what to do. He cleans up our son and strips the sheets off his bed. He takes our daughter, cleans her up, and adds her dirty clothes to the pile of sheets. He sends me to have a shower. Then he puts my daughter down for a nap. He's my superhero.
Brené Brown defines calm as "creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity
", as in, staying calm in a crisis; maintaining equilibrium in situations where your natural tendency is to fly off the handle.
Calmness comes naturally to some people (like my husband), but to others it's a cultivated practice. If we're able to stay calm in a crisis, it can make all the difference to the people around us, because, as psychologist and writer Harriet Lerner says, "Anxiety is extremely contagious, but so is calm.
Most of us have learned to manage anxiety in one of two patterned ways: over-functioning (managing, getting in other people's business, knowing "what's best") or under-functioning (being late, absent, the target of gossip). Staying calm is taking the middle road, not veering toward over-functioning or under-functioning.
You need to know exactly who you are in anxiety, and you need to give your loved ones permission to bring your attention to it, e.g. "Michelle, you're overfunctioning." Then you can practice cultivating your calm.
You're probably over-functioning if...
- you take over and micromanage in stressful situations;
- you believe things will fall apart if you don't do what's needed;
- you start delegating to those around you, but then you change your mind and decide you're going to do it all yourself;
- you think to yourself, "I'm the only one who can do this right";
- you're talking more than listening.
You're probably under-functioning if...
- you fade into the background when a stressful situation presents itself;
- you wait for someone else to tell you what to do;
- you know you can't do what needs to be done "perfectly", so you don't even try;
- you're listening more than talking;
- you disappear or tune out.
So... if you find yourself in a stressful situation (anything from being behind on your to-do list, to witnessing a car accident, to having poop all over yourself), and you realize you're over-functioning or under-functioning, think of it as an opportunity to build your "calmness" superpower.
"If we choose to heal with calm, we have to commit to practicing calm."
- Brené Brown
Resist freaking out. Breathe. Allow yourself to assess the situation and think about what to do next. Ask for help if needed. Let your calm be contagious.