When life seems stable, spend time sharpening your tools. Your tools are the techniques that guide you through life's most difficult and demanding moments, like loss, loneliness or anger. When these moments of vulnerability eventually come to pass, training ourselves to respond in a constructive way can make the difference between remaining in control or collapsing under the burden of negativity.
In these moments, these sensations want to overwhelm us. They encircle us like zombies in a horror film; they try to suffocate us like a snake might. These restraints prevent us from processing events as we might with a clearer frame of mind. So we either choose to develop the ability to maintain our perspective or become engaged in a self-perpetuating cycle of despondence.
The world's finest athletes and artists spend hours developing their skills. They hone their decision-making abilities and develop instinctive behaviours in situations that mimic their respective performance environments. Developing the capacity to maintain a healthy vantage point when experiencing something traumatic is no different.
Understand how you are feeling
The most important tool you can develop is an ability to identify when you're in a heightened emotional state. Fostering emotional self-awareness will allow you to observe when your decision-making has become clouded and put you on the path towards changing that.
A useful strategy is to articulate how you feel in a given moment to yourself in a clear and direct way. For example, I am feeling very nervous and anxious.
The way to develop this is conceptually simple but incredibly difficult to execute. There is a lot of writing online about the concept of mindfulness, and this skill is essentially what mindfulness teaches us. If you've never heard of it, start reading here at Wikipedia). Mindfulness strategies include simple breathing exercises and guided meditation. Mindfulness is the foundation for everything else we discuss here.
Know your tics and tendencies
Once you sense when you are heightened in these circumstances, use this knowledge to your advantage. Being able to anticipate potential difficulties gives you an opportunity to get out in front of dealing with them.
I am feeling nervous and anxious. I experience this through an elevated heart rate and butterflies in my stomach. This may be related to the public speaking engagement I have tomorrow.
Develop strategies to counteract those tendencies
Once you think you've established when these feelings arise, why you feel them and whatways it impacts you, find your own ways to move forward. Armed with these new insights you will be able to observe but still push through those difficult responses and achieve that which is required.
I am feeling nervous and anxious. I experience this through an elevated heart rate and butterflies in my stomach. This is likely related to the fact that I have to speak in public tomorrow. But I know that I am well prepared for the presentation. I have also practiced some breathing exercises to lower my heart rate and allow me to perform the task well.
The two strategies mentioned above were to prepare for the speaking engagement effectively and to practice some breathing exercises before taking to the lectern. If you succeed, congratulations, that's genuine bonafide personal growth points you've earned there. You still could fail, but having some strategies in place is far better than the alternative.
We have the capacity to make headway in the manner that we negotiate the ups and downs of our lives in the same way we might refine our golf swing or piano playing. The sorts of awareness and strategies we need are forged in times when we aren't under serious stress, so we should continue to build on these processes in those moments.
Start small. Identify something that annoys you and when it emerges, practice stepping back from the edge of that feeling. People will cut you off at intersections or chew loudly within your earshot, but the way those pressures impact you is defined more by your attitude towards it rather than the nature of the event itself. Practice this and before you know it, something far worse will have happened and the tools you'll need to be able stay composed will be right there.