When people are intensely anxious, overly neurotic, aggressively opinionated or highly impatient, my default response is to double down on calmness.
And not to chill others out and set an example of unflappable stoic peace and pass judgment on other people’s behavior.
The calmness is more of a boundary allows me to tend to my own wellbeing. And to acknowledge and sit with whatever feelings people are having, but without getting overwhelmed by their drama.
This seems to me like a healthy choice, since we now live in a culture of cortisol. Everything is a manufactured emergency. On a daily basis, a great many crises are routinely elevated above what they really deserve to be.
Our modern way of living promotes constant stress, social anxiety and increased unease over life. Which is not a surprise, considering the average smartphone user receives more than forty push notifications per day.
In fact, being around a stressed person has the power to negatively affect us in a physically quantifiable way. Harvard ran a cool study showing how stress unfolding around us has the potential to contaminate and compromise us.
Participants were paired with a loved one or a stranger who was anxious, and over a quarter of them displayed physiologically significant increases in cortisol.
Suffice it to say, the stress hormone truly is public health enemy number one. All the more reason to introduce some calm into our interactions. People are anxious, their energy is contagious, and calmness is a potent vaccine against it.
But here’s the rub. People will often misinterpret our calmness as indifference, passivity or emptiness. By not being swept away in the tide of drama, people may grow frustrated and confused with our quietude.
Why aren’t you more upset about this? Don’t you have an opinion on what’s going on? Aren’t you going to change your mind every three seconds based on new information?
Indeed, calm is not the most popular of virtues. Not that there isn’t a time and place to join people in their pain. People’s emotional experience is very real and very important to them, and we need them to know that we appreciate that.
Being smug in our calmness, being addicted to our emotional righteousness, serves nobody.
But on the whole, if any of us want a reach shot at calmness, we have to learn to move on. And so, if someone you’re taking to allows the smallest irritation to turn into their obsessive crusade, love them for who they are, and protect yourself from taking on their pain.
If someone wants to debate something forever, love them for who they are, and try not to fall down the anxiety rabbit hole with them.
Setting boundaries, after all, is an act of love, for self and other.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What percent of your mind’s processing power is preoccupied elsewhere?