Calm feels like a place you used to visit but haven’t been for far too long. Look at what we’re dealing with: A virus has invaded our lives and continues to spike across the country; work has permeated our homes. On top of that, we’ve got widespread unemployment and deep social unrest. It’s a lot, to say the least.

So how is it that some people seem able to exude a sense of calm, despite what’s going on? Is it something we’re born with or something we can learn? While some of us may be naturally more anxious than others (or just have more on our plate), the fact is, learning to cultivate calm is very much a practice.

Last year, my calm was put to the test: I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the uncertainty and stress held me captive. As a health coach and a resilience expert, I researched the most powerful calming techniques and developed a set of five proven practices during that time that brought me relief. I use these with my clients, and I’m sharing them with you today. They can support you in living through the crises we are going through now—helping maintain your peace, humanness, even hope.

Here are the five habits of highly calm people:

1. They practice emotion control.

We’re born with a tendency to scan the world for “threats” that upend our emotions and compromise our behavior. We act habitually and often impulsively—feeling flush with anxiety, anger, or sadness, for example—and become stressed in the process. These threats to our safety are in full effect now, driving us to resort to those long-held emotional reactions. Instead, when those stressful thoughts and emotions come up, catch and reframe them with the Trap it, Map it, Zap it technique, developed by meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté. In stressful times, I use this technique multiple times a day—to keep bringing me back to calm.

HOW: Trap It, Map It, Zap It

The more you practice, the quicker it becomes automatic.

  1. Trap It: Trap the emotion you’re feeling. Become aware when the tightness of anxiety or the heat of anger hits, and so on.
  2. Map It: Map your emotion to the stressful thought that’s driving it, ie, This pandemic will never end.
  3. Zap It: Zap the thought: Reframe it to the more realistic. Even when the emotions or thoughts are warranted, there is almost always room to ratchet back your response to lessen your stress, ie It may go on for some time, but things are changing every day and little by little we will get back to a new normal.

2. They use their breath.

When we’re stressed, we tend to take shallow breaths—or even hold our breath. This serves to amp up our stress and anxiety and puts our bodies into survival “fight-or-flight” mode. I am a former yoga teacher—and the 3-part breath is the first technique taught to students because it’s simple yet highly effective. This breathing technique instantly relaxes you by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (also called the “rest and digest system”).

HOW: The 3-Part Breath

You can do this sitting or laying down. Gently close your eyes and your mouth, breathing in and out through your nose. Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest.

  1. Take a slow deep breath in. Exhale.
  2. Inhale into your belly, trying to raise only the hand on your belly.
  3. Inhale into your chest, trying to raise only the hand on your chest. Continue alternating, breathing into the belly and the chest for a few cycles, and feel the calm.

3. They let go of control.

Many of us hold onto control for dear life. We attach ourselves to outcomes and push for things to happen the way we want. However, control is rooted in fear. We try to control things because we are scared about what might happen if we don’t. One day last year, my mom stopped my parade of worries about my cancer treatment, and said, “Alanna, you don’t have that level of agency over your life.” It was true: The reality is that things go much more smoothly when we let up a bit and allow them to happen instead of being a “pusher.” When we are able to trust that we are okay no matter the circumstances, we open up an incredible pathway to calm—and possibility.

HOW: Trust yourself

Trust that you can get through this. This is what ultimately will enable you to let go of the need to control. Practice by using affirmations like these:

“I trust that everything will happen as it is intended to.”

“I have gotten through challenges before and can do this again.”

4. They can say no to say yes. 

Many of us drive ourselves until exhaustion. But to protect our wellbeing, we must create boundaries. By saying no—to extra social commitments, errands, etc—you say a big yes to your wellbeing, your health, and your self-care. It is a power move—and a powerful tool for cultivating calm.

HOW: Make a “To-Don’t” List

Make a to-don’t list of activities and requests you won’t do because they don’t support your mental or physical wellbeing. These can be social commitments or self-imposed commitments, such as housework, errands, working late, or mindlessly scrolling on social media—sometimes we need to say “no” to ourselves, too, when we’re tempted to act in ways that drain our energy.

5. They find the good. 

Joy is not the result of struggle. Joy is the result of joy. Even in the darkest times, we can choose to find the good, which research shows turns anxiety to calm by balancing your perspective. We do this practice at the dinner table most nights. It helps us recenter by reminding us that even in the midst of negative circumstances, there are a slew of things simultaneously going well.

HOW: Rose, Bud, Thorn

Do this on your own at the end of the day or with a friend or your family.

Here’s how it works:

Rose: Think of your “rose” of the day—what went well.

Bud: Think of one thing you’re looking forward to.

Thorn: What didn’t go well.

It’s incredibly challenging to feel calm right now. However, each of us has the capacity to find contentment, despite what’s going on around us. By practicing these five habits, you’ll access the stillness available within you—becoming your own island of calm.