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One day a week, with the same sense of duty she afforded Sunday Mass, my grandmother polished her dining room furniture.

Polishing the horizontal surfaces would have been enough for most people, but Grandma wasn’t finished until she had gotten down on the floor and polished each leg of the table and all thirty-two legs of the eight chairs.

That’s where my grandfather found her, crying and polishing, when he came home from work one day.

Of course, he asked what was wrong, to which she replied, “I’m exhausted and I have to polish the dining room furniture.”

To which he replied, “Well, who the hell told you you had to do that?”

It strikes me that we’re responsible for a large part of own agitation.

When I was a brand new working mother, I drove my baby daughter to day care every morning and home in the evening. It was going well, we had the drill down, but then we hit a bump in the road.

For some unfathomable reason, my otherwise happy baby started spitting her pacifier onto the floor, where I couldn’t reach it without crashing the car, and SCREAMING.

The sound of a screaming baby in a tin can rattled every part of my being. I pulled over to soothe her and retrieve the pacifier many times, but she just spit it out again and kept on screaming.

This went on for a while.

Then as suddenly as it started, my daughter’s sucking/spitting/screaming phase ended and her mother learned a valuable lesson.

Returning to work and finding my way as a new mother was hard. It didn’t take much to push me over the edge and the more my daughter screamed the more helpless and crazed I felt.

When the screaming finally stopped, I realized that a lot of the distress I felt at the time was caused by my fear that it would never stop and I was damned to drive back and forth listening to screaming for the rest of my life.

Loosely paraphrasing my grandfather, “Who the hell told you that?”

Maybe it’s just me but, especially when things aren’t going well, there is a tendency to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same.

For some odd reason, this doesn’t happen as much when things are going well.

Remaining in the moment is much easier when experiencing joy. A laugh, a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. But, when we’re depressed, fatigued, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be just like today.

To find calm in the midst of chaos, it helps to remember the following:

  1. This Too Shall Pass: The stress of returning to work as a new mother blinded me to the obvious fact that my daughter’s screaming was a temporary phase. It’s a lot easier to hold on when you remember that time will move you through just about anything.
  2. False Obligations Are Crazy-Making: It’s hard to find calm if you’re overcommitted. Are you trying to keep up with friends you’re just not that close to anymore? Do you make commitments you shouldn’t because it’s easier than saying “no?” Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by obligations we created ourselves for no compelling reason. If endlessly “polishing the furniture” is killing your calm, take a moment to stop, re-evaluate and drop what isn’t working.
  3. Wait and See: For some of us, it’s an automatic reflex. Something goes wrong and we immediately start throwing out statements like, “Now this (insert bad thing) is going to happen and that (insert bad thing) is going to happen.” Pessimism is a bad habit. To kick it, become aware of it and stop its rant by telling yourself to “wait and see.”
  4. It’s All Funny:  Joan Rivers: “Life goes by fast. Enjoy it. Calm down. It’s all funny. Everyone gets so upset about the wrong things.” Word.
  5. Breathe: Life is full of stresses and the best way to find your calm is through your breath. It’s mobile, discreet and always available. It’s easy to get into the habit of taking a moment to stop and breathe in and out slowly when stressed and, once it’s a habit, it comes naturally.

So, the next time you find yourself upset and freaking out, remind yourself that:

You have the power to find the calm in the chaos. @DebbieWWGN (Click to Tweet!)

And then go do it.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you do when you’re upset to create calm? Let me know in the comments below.


DebbieWoodbury knows we’re all survivors of something. Her “somethings,” include family dysfunction, being laid off, miscarriages, infertility, and cancer. It was surviving cancer that pushed her to stop thinking about writing and actually sit down to do it, resulting in her first blog and two books. Now, she’s moving beyond cancer and leaning into joy (via yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, walking, relationships, interior decorating and all the other “little things” that make life worth living.) Debbie also blogs for The Huffington Post, and is an inspirational speaker, wife, mother, and a former very stressed out attorney. You’ll find Debbie’s first blog about surviving cancer at WhereWeGoNow. To find meditations on creating joy and to sign up for Debbie’s newsletters, click here and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Image courtesy of Robb North.

December 31, 2014