top of page

5 Steps to Calm Down

Photo of garden path on gravel. © Katherine Broadway

Last week, we broke down the 5-step process of getting upset. We used the example of a father trying to get his daughter ready for school. He wanted to remain calm in a stressful situation, but instead became anxious and angry. It ended with him yelling at his daughter, her crying, and him feeling like a bad father.

This week, we will use the same scenario, but in a different way. Now that we know the 5 steps, let’s use them to our advantage. Let’s identify ways to calm down at each step so we can achieve a different outcome.

We are not talking about not having feelings. Feelings are very important and give us valuable information about what is going on in our environment and how we are responding to it. Feelings are not your enemy and are not the cause of you behaving in ways you do not want to behave.

The root cause of your behavior is far more complicated than just the occurrence of an event and you becoming emotional. It is your relationship with your feelings that cause the problems.


Using the 5 steps from last week, let’s look for ways to make interventions with yourself to calm down and have a positive outcome. These ideas can be applied to most situations.

1. Our young father had a goal: to get his child to school on time. This is the set up. If he remains unconsciously single-minded about his goal, he is going to miss some important cues as to how it is going to go.

Change your Outcome: This is the time to be focused and aware of what is happening in the moment. Allowances need to be made for glitches in the process.

2. His daughter decides she is not going to cooperate. An unexpected event occurs that threatens his plans. A power struggle begins. This is the first step in escalating emotions. This is the easiest time to calm the situation down.

Change your Outcome: At this point he can count to ten, take some deep breaths, take a mental break and think of something pleasant. Doing so will reduce the tension. If he is unsuccessful in reducing the tension, he can do some self-talk reminding himself of the reality of the situation. No matter how emotional he becomes, he cannot speed up the process.

Emotion will only escalate the situation.

3. No intervention he has tried has worked. He is anxious and angry. Emotions are high and intense. All he can think about is being late. He is focused on how to force her to do what he says.

Change your Outcome: Now is the time to walk away. Walk outside; go do something that needs to be done. Stop dwelling on a negative outcome. Re-frame the situation and reassure yourself that it will work out, everyone will get where they need to go.

4. When emotions get this intense, old attitudes, habits and patterns take over.

Change your Outcome: This is a really good time to ask yourself some questions. Why am I so upset? Is it really this important? Will it matter a month, a week or a day from now? Am I making this situation bigger than it really is?

5. The father’s brain is flooded with neurochemicals and he is having trouble thinking.

Change your Outcome: One possibility is to reach out and connect with someone. If someone is in the house, go get a hug. Call a friend. Maybe it is time for him to hug his child and get reconnected to her.

The next time you feel your emotions rising, stop and consciously acknowledge where you are in these 5 steps, and try to cool things down.

While it is easier to stop the snowball effect of escalating emotions sooner rather than later, it is never too late in the process to step back and change your outcome.

You do not have to feel ruled by your emotions. If you need help implementing these steps, or need a concrete example that applies to your own life, call me at (919) 881-2001.

bottom of page