Boss Lady

How to stay calm in the midst of chaos


Dear businesswoman: let’s face it. You juggle an incredible number of things. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur, carving your own way in the world through sheer determination and force of will, earning every dollar because you created the business, the product, and the opportunity from scratch. Or maybe you’re a female employee at an organization, working hard to meet not only the demands of your job, but also to constantly prove yourself worthy of equal or greater pay than your male counterparts who have equal or lesser skills. Maybe you’re even a businesswoman who is feeling really in the groove with workload and pay and the business side of life, but you struggle to balance work with your social life, your family, and your need to just have some “you time.”

Whatever combination of the above descriptions makes up your unique businesswoman self, I know this much: we all have areas of life that sometimes feel overwhelming, over the top, and just plain too much to handle. Somehow, we keep going. We complete the assignment, make the presentation, make dinner for friends or family, and manage to get our laundry done, too… but then an angry boss or client or a life event out of left field (like the death of a loved one or a family member’s personal crisis) comes into play and tips us right over the edge into pure chaos. Is there anything we can do to recalibrate ourselves for calm and clarity, or are we simply at the whim of life’s passing storms?

Regardless of which category of “storm clouds” has you veering out of alignment with your joy, clarity, and overall well-being, mindfulness is a wonderful way to find your way back to your internal “true north.” Here are some quick mindfulness tips you can use to check your compass and find your way back to calm next time life sends a twister your way.

  1. Observe yourself without judgment

When you feel the intensity of a particularly challenging emotion welling up inside of you, see if you can call it out for what it is (i.e., “Oh, that’s anger. Oh, that’s worry.”) and begin to observe it. Drop down into the emotion and see what’s there, not judging it but simply observing it with curiosity. This is the heart of what mindfulness is all about. It takes practice, but pretty soon you will be able to tune into your body and notice what’s happening inside you. For example, when you feel anxiety or fear, you might sense a tightness or constriction somewhere in your body. When you feel sorrow, you might notice a feeling of heaviness or fatigue. Once you notice these feelings, you can work with them, giving yourself room to breathe and changing your relationship to them.

  1. Use soothing touch to comfort yourself

Putting your hand over your heart — or wherever you find it most soothing (i.e., your shoulder, your cheek) — taps into your body’s mammalian caregiver response and releases oxytocin and opiates in your brain to counteract cortisol, the stress hormone. I put my hand on my heart probably twenty times a day! Whenever I hear an upsetting story, up goes my hand to my heart. Some of my mindfulness students find that placing a hand on their belly or cheek worked better for them. Try different spots out on yourself and see what works for you. If you are at work, pick a soothing touch that isn’t obvious, like holding your arms or holding one hand in the other hand. That way, you can soothe yourself without your co-workers (or boss) knowing the negative effects they are having on you!

  1. Tell yourself what you most need to hear

What do you wish someone would say to you right now? What words would be most comforting or soothing to hear? Do you need to be told you are loved? Safe? Strong? Capable? Whatever you most need to hear right now, create a phrase and repeat it as a mantra to yourself. You can do this in seated meditation, but you can also do it on a walk, in the car, at the office, in line at the DMV, or anywhere else you need to. Try this out next time you feel overwhelmed and see how much it helps. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • I am loved and appreciated.
  • I am safe.
  • I am valued.
  • I am strong and capable.
  • I accept myself just as I am.

You don’t have to say these things out loud. You can repeat them silently in your head, focusing on them until they sink in and you begin to believe them. Don’t worry if it feels forced at first. When we are in the depths of emotional chaos, turning to mindfulness can feel challenging — especially when what we feel like doing is crying or yelling or foot stomping! The more you practice these tools though, the easier they will come to you when you need them most, and the more quickly chaos will resolve into something more manageable. We can’t control what comes our way, but we can control how we respond to it.

About Julie Potiker

Mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to become trained to teach Mindful Self-Compassion, and completed the Positive Neuroplasticity Training Professional Course with Rick Hanson. Now, she shares these and other mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos” For more information, visit Find Julie on Twitter @JuliePotiker.

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