Finding Your Inner Calm in High Stress Situations

Finding Your Inner Calm in High Stress Situations

Redwoods help keep it all in perspective.

Redwoods help keep it all in perspective.

Have you ever faced a stressful situation that takes you outside of your comfort zone?  Maybe it’s a speech, a presentation at work, or simply finding your voice in an uncomfortable conversation.

You know that you’ll do your best if you can figure out how to be calm and collected. But the question is – how do you get there?

There’s a Sanskrit word called Sattva, which refers to a clear, balanced, and peaceful mind. I was grateful for my Ayurvedic strategies that helped me find Sattva at last month’s National Ayurvedic Medical Association’s conference where I was invited to present on Integrative Psychiatry.

I want to share with you how I used my Ayurvedic tools to find this clarity and balance while under pressure with the hope that my experience might be helpful to you in some way.

Ayurveda tells us that in order to find and maintain Sattva—clarity, balance, peace—we have to learn how to manage our mind’s shifting tendencies that range anywhere from dullness and cloudiness (known in Sanskrit as Tamas) to the other extreme of raciness, jitteriness, and distractedness (known in Sanskrit as Rajas).

The mind’s activity level and ability to function fluctuate throughout the day. For example, when you wake up, your mind is still slow and might tell you to hit snooze a few times. That’s Tamas. And then you have an extra cup of coffee (while racing to get out of the house) to compensate for staying up too late watching Game of Thrones and you feel racy, jittery, and anxious. That’s Rajas. And it’s just 8am!

And then there are those times when you’re walking along the beach on a gorgeous day and you feel a sense of spaciousness and calm as you attune to the ocean’s rhythms. Well, that’s Sattva. As the day marches on and our mind fluctuates, Ayurvedic strategies can help us to keep bringing it back to Sattva.

Many people try to find this balance by using substances – caffeine to feel energized and alcohol, sugary/salty food, and nicotine to calm or even numb. Rather than resort to substances, Ayurveda gives us reliable diet and lifestyle tools to find this place of inner calm.

Back to the conference. You might imagine that an Ayurveda conference would be like a meditation retreat, but it was like other conferences with hundreds of people looking to connect, network, and learn from leaders in the field. There was a wonderful high level of energy—an environment in which I can easily feel overstimulated.

Here’s what I did to try to find that strolling-on-the-beach feeling: I paid close attention to my over-stimulated, nervous energy. And then I made sure to stay quiet and move slowly. I took walks in nature rather than attending every event. I ate vegetarian, simply, and lightly (a Sattvic diet). And I prioritized sleeping well.  

As I made these pro-Sattvic choices, I felt more calm and connected to the most important aspects of my planned presentation. It then became clear that instead of delivering a highly scripted talk, I could simply let the talk come to me. I let go of the need to memorize minutia or articulate things perfectly (the pressure to do so would have been Rajas-inducing for sure). Instead, I tried to tune into the gestalt of the conference and let my colleagues’ energy and ideas inspire the just-right version of my talk. I trusted that by setting the right conditions for myself, I could better tune into the group and my talk would flow.

Leadership and wellbeing expert Tara Mohr, refers to this as operating from the Inside Out. Instead of being fear driven, I trusted my instincts, slowed down, looked within to the ideas and insights that were already there, and brought them forward. With this approach, I was able to truly enjoy the experience of presenting on a wonderful panel to a highly engaged audience and felt the resonance between all of us. How liberating.

Here are some things to explore if you’d like to find and maintain your own Sattva, so it’s easier to access when you’re in those high pressure situations:

  • Diet: Lean towards a vegetarian diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy, and nuts.

  • Your home: Work towards creating a clean, decluttered home with a sense of spaciousness and natural light. Explore aromatherapy and choose essential oils according to how they make you feel. Be mindful of the kinds of TV, radio, podcasts, and music that you bring in. Limit your consumption of news, social media, and video games. And lastly, consider your colors, artwork, and decor and see if you can highlight the elements that make you feel really good. You don’t have to spend money or buy new things to do this. In my opinion, less is more.

  • Sleep: Ideally go to sleep early and wake up early (I’m an early morning convert myself and this one has been a game changer).

  • Relationships: Invite in trustworthy, calming, loving people who are moving towards their own Sattvic living. Inspire each other.

  • Go to nature: Go for walks in the woods, on the beach, in the park. Practice experiencing nature through all of your senses.

Self-Compassion and Striving for Good Enough

Self-Compassion and Striving for Good Enough