Intuitive, creative, and powerful decisions can spring from a steady mind © Pexels, Pixabay

3 secrets to mastering emotions in an emergency
Here's how to bring out the best in you when it matters the most
22 Mar 2024

Picture this: you’re in a situation where thousands of lives depend on your action. You have no room for error and no backup plan. You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, and the clock is ticking. This might be a familiar situation if you are someone who is called upon to work in very harsh conditions and tense situations.

When you are working in emergencies – anything from a natural disaster to a diplomatic crisis – it’s easy for stress to build up. And even a random phone call could make you lose your temper, your judgment, or your chance to do the right thing.

What makes great leaders great is their ability to govern their mind even in the most testing situations. Here are 3 ways you could learn and master this skill:

  1. Become immune to triggers

Stress is a way for our brain to protect us from danger. It helps us survive and deal with problems. But sometimes, stress can get out of hand and mess up our health and happiness. How can we stop stress from ruining our lives?

First, we need to figure out what makes us stressed. These are called triggers. Triggers are things that make us feel stressed or anxious. They are different for each of us, depending on who we are, what we’ve been through, and where we come from. Some common triggers for people who work in hard and urgent situations are: seeing or facing violence or trauma; feeling powerless or uncertain; having moral or ethical dilemmas; having too much work or too little time; lacking resources or training; being isolated or away from loved ones; facing discrimination or harassment; getting negative feedback or criticism; and so on.

Now, to stop getting triggered, you need to get vaccinated against these triggers. What I mean by this is that before you face an emergency next time, you need to think of all the things that could trigger you. You’re becoming immune to them by knowing that it’s ok, they can come.

There’s a pro tip here: change the perspective around how you see your triggers. It could change the game completely if you see your triggers as potential opportunities and not as threats. A difficult negotiation could be an opportunity to hone your skills. Lack of funding or resources could be an opportunity to be more innovative and creative, and so on.

This way, you are making a positive association around triggers. And the best part is, once we do this, our brain remembers this positive association of the trigger with finding opportunities. The next time we face a trigger, our brain will bring up our positive story and response!

    2. Find refuge in your breath

    We talked about getting vaccinated against triggers but what if you’ve already stressed? Stress is a chemical phenomenon. The Brain detects a threat (real or perceived) and a series of neural and chemical responses is generated. This makes your heart race, makes you sweat, and may cause irritability and headaches. It can also make it hard to sleep and make you feel withdrawn, frustrated, and isolated.

    Now, one of the easiest ways to control this excited flow of hormones within you is by tapping into your Breath. A few steady breaths tell your brain to relax, helping you think clearly and respond well.

    3. Don’t let emotions control you – learn to watch them

    If you learn the skill of observing your emotions as they arise, you can rule them instead of becoming their slaves.

    Witness the stress as it arises. Witness the trigger as it happens. Doing this, you’re already one step out of them. This puts you in the driver’s seat of your action and helps you make clear, creative and intuitive decisions. In fact, this is the 1st principle of Yoga – becoming a witness to what is happening within.

    And for the second step, you need to ask yourself: who is watching all this? Ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ This is self-inquiry. You don’t need to rush to find the answer right away, but as you ask yourself this question, over time, even the worst emergency won’t shake you even by a millimeter. It may seem weird at first, but you’ll see how powerful it is as you keep doing it.

    In a nutshell

    You don’t need to handle the situation but only your mind. A strong mind can endure even physical pain and still come out strong, but a weak mind can crumble under even a tiny verbal offense or just by a thought about a challenging situation. A happy, calm, relaxed mind is the key to unlocking your potential. It can help you make better decisions, think clearer, solve problems creatively, and plan holistically. Knowing your triggers, tapping into the power of your breath, and being a witness to your emotions helps you regain that state of a strong stable mind. With these 3 strategies, you can be your best even in moments of emergency and unexpected stress – a quality of great leaders indeed.

    * Vedant Kulkarni is an International Yoga Master, recognized and accredited by the Government of India.
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