How To Stay Calm In Tough Situations

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Emotions can serve a useful purpose in decision-making, but when you let them completely take over your reasoning abilities, you might make poor decisions. Remaining calm can help you manage complex difficulties with a more rational perspective. However, at times, it can be difficult not to be overwhelmed by emotions. They can spring up naturally. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Having trouble staying calm?

Living in tough times

You likely aren't going to be able to get through life without experiencing tough situations at some point. People may experience relationship problems, financial difficulties, health problems, or losing a loved one.

All of these situations can bring up a lot of emotion.

While emotions aren't bad in themselves, if you allow them to have control over you and how you handle situations, it can make things worse. However, if you take the time to learn how to overcome emotional responses, you can learn how to remain calm and think clearly in difficult times.

Acting with appropriate emotions

Emotions are not a switch you can turn off, but you can train your mind to manage your emotions over time. Staying calm during stress is a habit, and like any new habit, you might have to practice it over and over again for it to stick. Below, you'll find ways to learn how to express healthy emotions, even in tough times.

Accept that you don't control everything

Often, our emotions can get the best of us during tough situations because we might become frustrated if things aren't going how we want or planned. In these cases, you have to remind yourself that you don't have control over many aspects of your life. Life is unpredictable, as are other people. In fact, you can make yourself miserable by thinking you can control everything. When you accept the factors you cannot control, intense emotions may become more manageable.

Once you've accepted the things that you can't control, it often becomes easier to focus on the things that you can control. As a result, this perspective can not only help you stay calm but direct your energies in more efficient ways.

Consider the big picture

A related skill is to realize that, for the most part, the actions that can seem like a big deal to us likely are part of much larger systems. Thinking this way can help us to understand the importance of the choices that we make in tough situations, whether those choices are important or not.

Ask yourself if the circumstances that are stressing you out will still matter in five years. If this isn’t something that can be resolved, and it isn’t something that will have noticeable, long-lasting impacts, then consider directing your energy elsewhere.

Think about other people

We might get more emotional when we only think about our own needs. When you change your focus to what you can do for other people, you might realize that you are part of a community that supports each other. That can make it easier to manage tough times. Keeping yourself busy with other responsibilities can also redirect your attention away from stressing out over your problems. In addition, knowing that others depend on you can motivate you to stop dwelling solely on your desires.

Look up and down the line before making a tough call

If you combine the previous two skills – thinking of the big picture and thinking about other people – it can help put you and your situation in context. It may also direct you to other people who might be able to help you make better decisions.

When we're in a tough situation, we might think we need to handle it ourselves. But, if you ask for advice and clarity from the people around you, it can help you make decisions that are better for everyone. It may seem like you're giving away some of the decision-making power but considering others as part of a system is an important administrative skill.

Getty/AnnaStills

Pretend someone else is making the decision

One good way to become emotionless in tough situations is to pretend that someone else is making the decision or undergoing this problem. You can think of this person as an imaginary coworker or even a computer program. What kinds of things might this entity take into account? What do they need to know?

A similar option is to ask someone outside the situation what they think. This could be a friend, a partner, or anyone really. Temporarily removing yourself from the situation can be a good way to look at things with fresh eyes. It might also help you find options that you might not have thought of on your own.

Stop thinking of yourself as emotional, but don't stop feeling

To a large extent, you are who you think you are. If you think of yourself as overly emotional and feel bad because you often overreact, you're more likely to end up behaving in an overly emotional manner. Instead, create a new mental image of yourself. 

It can also help to "fake it until you make it." You may even convince others that you are a more level-headed, rational person before you convince yourself. When you believe that other people expect this behavior from you, it might become easier for you to operate this way.

Appearing calm and keeping your emotions under control can help you become more content with your life and your interactions with others, but it’s still important though to continue to be honest with yourself. You can acknowledge your feelings before letting them go. Sometimes emotional outbursts happen when you've been bottling up your emotions. The key is often management and not avoidance. You can learn to feel and express your emotions appropriately without letting them take control.

Strategies to stay calm

Learning the right strategies can help you through tough times. Here are some other things that you can try.

  • Exercise: Exercise is known to reduce the symptoms of anxiety that can be prompted by challenging times. When we're going through difficult situations, exercise might often be one of the first things that people cut out. But expending physical energy through exercise can help you think more clearly and relieve stress.
  • Journaling: Taking time to write in a journal can help you process difficult situations as well. Sometimes when you write out what's happening, you can gain a clearer understanding of the situation. Writing in a journal can also help you process emotions in a safe way and may stop you from rushing into decisions.
  • Medication: There are times when medication can help if you're going through a tough time and experiencing anxiety, depression, or insomnia because of it. If you think you might benefit from medication, talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist about your options. Remember you can only start of stop medication with the advice and supervision of a qualified medical professional.
  • Talking to a therapist: Talking to a licensed counselor can help you release negative emotions. A good in-person or online counselor can also help you understand your emotions, guiding you to interpret and use them more effectively when they arise.
iStock
Having trouble staying calm?

How BetterHelp can support you

If talking to a counselor is something you’re interested in but don’t have the time for, you can reach out to BetterHelp today. You can meet with counselors wherever you feel most comfortable, whether that be your home or in your car, or anywhere else, and at a time that best fits you. Below, you can read reviews of some of our therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.

Clinical studies have proven that online therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, online therapy is just as effective and, in some cases, even more effective than in-person therapy. 

Counselor reviews

"Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem-solving tools. I highly recommend him!"

"Claudia is amazing. She's supportive, reliable, kind, and understanding while also being firm at the same time. I feel more grounded and calm after our sessions."

Takeaway

Tough times are going to happen in life, but you can learn how to stay calm and move through any situation. Strategies like accepting your lack of control in a situation, taking the big picture into account, allowing yourself to feel, and pretending someone else is making the decision can all help mitigate feelings of stress in tough situations. If you need extra support, the team of licensed online therapists at BetterHelp is available. Take the first step by reaching out to a certified professional at BetterHelp.

Learn to strengthen your mental health

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started