[June 23, 2020] While training many years ago for deployment into combat, my unit participated in a live-fire exercise. When we came under fire, our job was to return fire, report, and then move out of the area if possible. My best friend’s job was radio operator. When the simulated attack took place, my friend Josh was freaking out and jabbering incoherently on the radio. It’s not easy to be steady and calm. Can you keep your cool?
There are plenty of benefits to keeping your head while everyone else around you is losing theirs. Emotion quickly bubbles to the surface and poor decisions are the result. In combat, this loss of emotional control can lead to disaster. Later in combat, Josh did much better but it was the training we had back at Fort Sill, OK that gave him the confidence to do what was right.
Keeping your cool under stress is no easy task. It runs counter to our biological make-up. We have all heard about those who cut and run on the battlefield, the guy who freaks out when told to stand in line at the grocery store, or the little old lady who tells you to ‘get back’ because you are standing too close to her. Maybe you just want to yell back that they are just a “pathetic moron.” Holding your tongue is better.
Today, as I write this article, there is an excess of stressors that are pushing many of us to an emotional brink. Economic shutdowns have put millions out of work, most Americans have lost their livelihoods permanently, the COVID-19 pandemic, rioting and looting, marches against racism, and a host of smaller-scale tragedies that are common for us to endure. Who could blame someone for losing their cool?
However, there are lots of tips on how to stay calm. Found in self-help books and articles, these are largely unchanged since the Neanderthal first walked on this planet. For example, we are told to 1) think before you act (or talk), 2) learn about your triggers and avoid them, 3) count to 10, 4) take a few deep breaths, and 5) pretend you are a better person. Sure you want to tell the idiot at the grocery checkout counter that he is a ‘thug-wannabe’ for screaming at you for no reason, but it’s not worth the brief moment of satisfaction. Besides, he might be the local police chief and you don’t know it.
If there is one thing I did learn in combat that relates back to being a better, more resilient person is to not sweat the small stuff. When you live in a life and death environment, small things like a person that gets upset, should not bother you. Don’t tell them they are “freaking out” or “stupid” or even that they are a “thug-wannabe.” Keep your cool. You are better.
So, the next time someone loses their cool, remember that they haven’t yet learned the basics of human social interaction. Put yourself voluntarily into situations that push your limits. Learn from them, focus your mind, and don’t give up learning how to stay calm under stressful circumstances. This is better for your health.