How to Keep Your Cool While Surrounded by Very Un-Chill Energy

 minute read

Emma Banks

A lesson in maintaining peace of mind around the not-so-peaceful with Therapist Melissa Ander

There’s something very un-chill about living in New York. As a Texpat—that is, I moved here from Austin, Texas—I find myself in a constant state of over-stimulation; lusting for open skies and flat terrain; wondering, even after almost 5 years of calling this place home, if anyone has ever actually mastered the art of idleness in a city that demands one to be always on. If “peace of mind” were available for purchase here, I’m sure it would be in very high demand.  

Where I’ve historically been prone to avoiding the many sources of stress that NYC provides—working from home when I want to safeguard my sanity and skip the commute, or cancelling plans to confront a colleague about something uncomfortable, therapist, Melissa Ander has a different remedy in mind. This remedy looks something like acknowledgement, followed closely by validation. Why? Because when we admit to the reality of something, we instantly accept its legitimacy, and are thus no longer thrashing about in our attempts to tread water whilst pretending the water does not exist. Put simply: recognize your feelings, allow yourself to actually feel them, then go from there.  

“We are existentially alone, but in a constant interpersonal relational process; meaning that our nervous systems are in a perpetual state of reaction and response,”

Ander explains, “Often we are not aware on a conscious level of why we're feeling what we're feeling. And so in order to be able to maintain calm and to be optimal in our functioning, we have to develop a skill of insight and awareness.” 

Having insight into why we feel what we feel means committing to the process of tuning in, especially in our workplace environment where we spend upwards of 40 hours per week. When we learn and adopt the skills to pay attention to our “felt” sense, Ander says, we develop the ability to tolerate feeling, instead of burying it.  

“Self-inquiry calms the nervous system: when you name a feeling state, it has the effect of moving you from your limbic brain where there are reactivity and response and anxiety and stress and fear into your prefrontal cortex where there are logic and reason. When people feel understood, there’s less anxiety.”  

Consider the stress of a tense meeting or the awkward friction when two people in leadership positions fundamentally disagree. Instantly, I plan my exit strategy; what’s the most low key response I can craft? How can I avoid participating in order to avoid conflict? If all else fails, will anyone notice if I make a mad dash for the exit? Ok, that’s not so serious, but you get the picture—this is about acknowledging how these situations (and, sometimes, individual people) make us feel, and then, consequently, dealing with the reality at hand instead of running away from it.

“Don’t avoid discomfort—consider that anxiety or stress as a valuable source of information that'll motivate us to seek out what we need to do to feel better. And then, act on those needs: when you know what's going on and what's driving that sense of discomfort and you stand within that environment, you can name it and the nervous system settles.” 

I’m no expert in this tactic but I’m intrigued by how it can improve my state of mind, especially at work; though I can’t remove myself from the chaos of New York City (or my job), I might be able to remove my inclination to avoid it—and instead, face it head on (like, I’m assuming, a true New Yorker would).  

Image by Emma Banks

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