Do you get ticked off at the littlest thing—and then ruminate about it all day? Or maybe you just get thrown off by something as insignificant as someone walking slowly ahead of you or a car running up too close behind. There are a zillion ways and reasons to get annoyed, and it’s one thing if it’s a passing phenomenon, but the longer your annoyance lasts, the more you add to your stress load.
In a survey by meQ of more than 4,000 people, a whopping 73 percent often find themselves frustrated over little things. And those little irritating reactions can trigger emotions that hang with you through the day.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed people of all different backgrounds—Buddhist meditation teachers, integrative docs, therapists—and asked them how do you prevent getting derailed by it? Here’s a collection of the best advice I’ve heard:
- Breathe. When someone does something so rude it takes your breath away, take it back. Hit the brakes on your response by taking a big, deep, juicy belly breath. Not a huff, mind you, nor a sigh—but a long, intentional inhale and exhale. This trains your body not to go into reaction mode and gives you a moment to catch yourself before you do something you regret.
- Practice equanimity. Equanimity means “composure or stability arising from deep awareness of the present moment.” Susan Piver, Buddhist meditation teacher and author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, once illustrated it to me this way: Imagine you’re driving down the street and you see a car in your rearview riding your bumper. You get pissed—until you realize it’s an ambulance. You go from “What the–!” to “Oh let me get you out of your way.” In that instant, all the tension and ego caught up in that act evaporates in the light of a larger purpose—that ambulance needs to get somewhere fast. You can feel that energy change. What if we could do that in our own lives? Not just practice composure during a difficult moment, but think for a moment that there are people with needs greater than ours at the moment.
- Probe the emotion. This last concept comes from cognitive behavioral therapy, and I’ve talked to one of meQ’s founders, Andrew Shatte, PhD, about it: When you feel that bristle of irritation raising the hairs on the back of your neck, stop and peek under the hood of your brain. What’s causing that reaction? Why do you feel this way? Is it that someone cut you off in line? Or is it that you believe no one should ever cut anyone off. Do you feel disrespected? Does it remind you of another time when you felt this way? When you bring in the higher-level thinking part of your brain, to investigate the reactive, emotional part, you slow down the reaction and get a little of the poison out—and maybe learn something about yourself in the process.
Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, expert, and coach, and creator of bestdecisionallday.com. You can also visit her trespicio.com.