Stay Cool in Difficult Situations


Judith Orloff, MD, is a New York Times best-selling author and psychology professor at UCLA, whose books Emotional Freedom and Positive Energy have helped tens of thousands of people cultivate calm in the midst of life’s challenges. Her upcoming book, The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, continues her exploration of the links between physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Here, she shares some of her go-to tips and techniques for staying calm in difficult situations. The key to all these techniques, Orloff says, is bringing mindfulness to your own inner experience, so that you can sense your own response before it’s too late.


“It’s very important to have a dialogue inside,
asking yourself, how do I want to respond?”


Come from the Heart

“The first thing to remember is to deep-breathe,” she says. “If you’re out in the world and you’re triggered, breathe before reacting; that centers you immediately.” That may be all that’s needed when you’re cut off by another driver or encounter a rude salesperson. But what if the interaction is a little more personal—involving a difficult co-worker or troubling family member, for example?

“In those situations, I’d suggest a 3-minute heart meditation,” Orloff offers. “It’s simple. Just stop and center yourself by focusing on your heart; then picture an image you love, a feeling you have when you’re in nature, or a voice you love listening to.”

In just a few minutes, she suggests, you can shift your awareness. “That way, you won’t blurt out something you’ll regret or fire off an e-mail you’ll wish you hadn’t sent,” Orloff says. “It’s a way of allowing yourself to re-center before you respond.”

Claim Your Power

Highly sensitive people—and Orloff says that more and more people are beginning to realize they fit this description—are particularly susceptible to the energies of others around them, and can use these techniques. “You need to identify the energy vampires in your life—the ones who suck you dry,” she explains. “Trust your intuition, and if you’re around people like that, take precautions.”

An energy vampire could take the form of a family member who is always highly critical, or a co-worker who takes over conversations and never stops talking. In either case, Orloff says, you need to be aware of the situation so you’re not taken by surprise.

“It’s very important to have a dialogue inside, asking yourself, how do I want to respond? Don’t react with anger, but with power,” Orloff counsels. That power could take the form of choosing a different place to sit at a gathering, or gently but firmly removing yourself from a conversation.

Create Protection

As we move through the world, we can’t help but encounter the energy of others—and sometimes that energy is unpleasant. There’s no way to avoid every angry, judgmental or needy person, but visualization can offer a powerful tool for protection.

“Just visualize a beautiful shield of light around you to protect you from toxicity and stress outside,” Orloff advises. “You can do this when interacting with an energy vampire, in a toxic work situation, or simply when you’re traveling. I do this in airports so I don’t pick up the negative energies of people sitting next to me.”

Ultimately, the tools for creating calm and avoiding unwanted conflict lie within us, Orloff says. It’s up to us to tune into our own reactions before they take over, and to make choices that lead to a more empowered life.


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