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MAY 4, 2019

OP-ED

Passing the Stay Calm Test

by Melissa MARTIN, Ph.D.

How do you stay calm in the mist of a trigger? It’s usually the small annoyances that push our buttons, raise our cortisol, and flood our bodies with adrenaline. I try not to sweat the small stuff—but I am human just like you. And sometimes I allow my triggers to irritate me.

Situation. The Friday before Easter I stopped to pick up some outside items for the yard. Not smart. The store was buzzing and busy with holiday shoppers. So I grabbed my things and headed towards the checkout line in the Lawn and Garden Department. And there stood one of my triggers. A customer with a cart overflowing with food from the Grocery Department. And half of her stuff was candy. My perception: She is being rude and needed to checkout in the grocery section. And the manager needed to charge her double for sneaking into the Lawn and Garden Department checkout line. And shun, spurn, and shame her.

But I wanted to pass the stay calm test. So I checked my cell phone messages while the customer (a loud lady) chatted to the cashier. Then I scanned the room. And spotted a new-fangled grill that looked like a miniature spaceship. Glancing at the myriad bags of seeds, I wondered about the people that feed our feathered friends. And the customer chatted on and on. Glancing at the ceiling, I viewed the security camera and waved. And the loud lady chatted on and on.

Wouldn’t you know it? A price check on her 6-pack of pop. The cashier called the Grocery Department twice. Behind me the line kept growing—not with buggies full of lawn and garden supplies. Shoppers with other stuff. I didn’t want to fail the stay calm test. So I check my cell phone again—watched a funny pet video. Laughter is a tool to use to pass the stay calm test.

The customer started complaining about store employees that do not change the prices when items go off sale. The cashier remained friendly and did not become frazzled—at least on the outside.

Silent self-talk was my go-to. Because I wanted to pass the stay calm test. So I avoided eye contact with the customer as she continued to grumble. So I read the labels on my items. And then thought about why the Easter Bunny gets all the credit when the chickens lay all the eggs. How fair is that?

The loud lady leaves—it’s my turn to checkout. I muster a fake smile as the cashier says her required mantra from the latest training program, “Did you find everything you wanted?” No snarky comments about the obnoxious customer from me. I passed the stay calm test. Yea!

The holiday traffic was heavy. So some drivers turned into lane-hoppers and horn-honkers. But I wanted to pass the stay calm test. Slow drivers that drive in the fast lane are a trigger.

Fate knocked on my car door to push the envelope. Wouldn’t you know it? The person beeping her horn behind me was the loud lady from the store. Should I stare and glare? Should I grumble and mumble? Should I huff and puff?

“Oh bother” said Winnie the Pooh. “I’d say thistles, but nobody listens to me, anyway” complained Eeyore. “Help, help,” cried Piglet, “a Heffalump, a Horrible Heffalump!” and he scampered off as hard as he could, still crying out, “Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, holl, a Hoffable Hellerump!”

Instead, I chuckled. And turned the radio up.

“Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now; in the present…I’m merely talking about learning to be less bothered by the actions of people…The more patient you are, the more accepting you will be of what is, rather than insisting that life be exactly as you would like it to be…When you look at life and its many challenges as a test, or series of tests, you begin to see each issue you face as an opportunity to grow, a chance to roll with the punches.”— Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life.

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MELISSA MARTIN, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Ohio.

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