Your coffee is cold. The dishwasher is on the fritz. And you have just ... about ... had it. How do you handle these ordinary (yet annoying) setbacks? Try this sage advice from experts who have been there.
Expect the Worst
When I was at the White House, I used to tell myself that if every day is a crisis, there’s no such thing as a crisis. Crises are routine. The trick is to anticipate them. Expect that on any given day, something unexpected will happen. Then it won’t rattle you, and you can stay calm as you deal with it. It also helps if you build a little fluff time into your schedule. I can herd the cats (or, er, my kids) more easily when there’s just enough fudge time to allow for the inevitable missing coat or backpack. If you schedule everything down to the last minute, any little snafu can really set you off.
Ari Fleischer was the White House press secretary for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. He heads Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, in New York City.
When something bad happens, the brain’s amygdala triggers negative emotions, like a fire siren going off in your head. You’ll feel less upset if you practice observing instead of reflexively reacting. Let the thoughts and feelings flow by like clouds rather than chasing them. Then take a couple of deep breaths and have an inner chat, asking yourself, Am I overreacting? Worrying too much? Can I set this aside and come back to it later? One of the advantages of getting older is that you get better at this. You’ve been through so many fire alarms that you’ve learned not to jump out the window.
Margaret Moore is an executive wellness coach; the CEO of Wellcoaches Corporation, based in Wellesley, Massachusetts; and a coauthor of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life ($17, amazon.com).
Admit How You Feel
When something disturbing happens, I tend to gloss over it at first. But 5 or 10 minutes later I have to ask myself what I’m feeling and why I feel that way. And then—it sounds so corny, but it really does work—I acknowledge the feeling. I identify it and own it. Then, usually, I can move on. Not that it’s erased from my consciousness, but it’s put in a place where I can move around it and deal with it. For example, I was recently talking on the phone to a friend and she said something complimentary about someone who had hurt me. After the call, I was overcome with irritation. I thought, Why am I so grumpy? Finally I admitted that I felt irritated, and then the feeling didn’t nag me as much anymore. When an emotion is undefinable, it has more power than when you can see it for what it is.
Anna Holmes is the creator of Jezebel.com and the editor of The Book of Jezebel ($27, amazon.com). She lives in New York City.
Coping with unfortunate events and moving on is the definition of resilience. You can train yourself to be resilient by using difficult situations as a toughening experience. Accept what you cannot change, and practice more productive responses. So instead of shouting obscenities and banging on the steering wheel when you’re stuck in traffic, put on soothing music. Realize that the traffic jam is an opportunity to get better control over your emotions. If you do this over and over again, you will actually change the way that your brain functions. No one enjoys stress and adversity, but they can help you grow.
Steven Southwick is a professor of psychiatry at Yale University and a coauthor of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges ($24, amazon.com). He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
We think that we act because of how we feel. But we also feel because of how we act. So use this knowledge to change your mood. Jump up and down; getting both feet off the ground makes you feel childlike and energetic. Or go for a walk. Just this morning I got an unnerving e-mail from someone and felt lousy about it. So I headed out for a walk in Central Park with a friend. So many things that tend to make a person happy are wrapped up in one little thing—a walk. It really works! When I got home, I wasn’t irritated anymore. I realized, yeah, I got my perspective back.
Gretchen Rubin is the best-selling author of The Happiness Project ($15, amazon.com) and Happier at Home ($15, amazon.com). She lives in New York City.