Stutzman: Keep calm and carry on

Last Tuesday we celebrated a glorious milestone at our house. Our son Indiana turned one year old. He has been a blessed addition to our family. Prior to his birth we experienced a miscarriage so we felt incredibly thankful for another chance to welcome a new child into the world. We now wonder what we ever did without him. He is sweet, funny and adventurous.

To celebrate, my husband arranged his schedule so he could be home to make a birthday dinner and bake cupcakes. Our little family of four (plus Turkish the dog) were all looking forward to the evening after the workday was done. We had presents, dinosaur candles, and smiles ready to go.

But, while my son was squishing cake between his fingers and smashing frosting into his hair I was distracted. I found myself drifting off and not being fully present in the moment to rejoice in this milestone. While I should have been laughing and enjoying the festivities I was instead, troubled.

Earlier in the day I received an email that was not so nice. It’s not the first time it has happened and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We, as human beings, are an imperfect species and there will always be miscommunications, misunderstandings, and hasty decisions. Instead of giving the benefit of the doubt, conclusions are jumped to and assumptions made. What bothered me most about the experience was that I couldn’t turn it off when I left the office and I let it invade my personal life. I let it move into a space that was supposed to be reserved for pure joy during the birthday of our baby boy.

So I have given myself a new challenge. Don’t take things personally, stop being so sensitive, and remain calm. For the past year or two I keep seeing these signs that say “Keep Calm and Carry On.” OK. That’s nice; easier said than done. How do you keep calm when you are in a situation that is anything but calm? I think it is probably different for each one of us.

I usually don’t have a problem keeping calm and keeping my emotions in check. Throughout the years co-workers have described me as mellow, easy-going, flexible, and accommodating. But I’m only human. Every once in a while I let something get to me and internalize the frustration.

Here is my new plan. I have selected three things to focus on or do when I feel frustration about circumstances beyond my control. They are unique to me so you may find these things unhelpful. But if you look at the plan from your perspective I’m sure you will be able to find three things that are unique to you.

The first is art. My mom taught me how to tap into my creative side when I was young. I’m never going to be a Van Gogh but I love drawing, painting, and creative writing. So when I start to feel like something is bothering me and I need to infuse a calming energy into the situation I am going to create something. Last week I took my daughter to the pottery store downtown and we each painted a piece of art to take home. I can’t say it was my most artistic demonstration but I did feel better after the session.

The second is leaving technology behind and getting outdoors. There is something about being outside amongst the quiet and serenity of nature that makes me feel at peace with just about everything. Fresh air, sounds of a forest, and an energetic kiss of the wind on my face help me forget worries and troubles and inspire me to be more optimistic.

And last is simply to reflect on things I feel I am doing well or am proud of. Years ago a thoughtful mentor recommended that I start keeping a Gratefulness Journal. Each day write down three things that I am grateful for. It helps me to focus on the good in my life. When I am feeling especially frustrated I am going to take it a step further and also write down one difficulty or challenge I have recently overcome. Life is demanding and can be harsh. It’s important to remember the progress you’ve made so far along your journey.

I’m confident these things will help me refocus on what matters most in life when I get caught up in a stressful situation. We can’t often control what happens to us in life; but we can control how we react to it. What are your three things for keeping calm and carrying on?

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.