When to Freak Out and When to Remain Calm

When to Freak Out and When to Remain Calm
When to Freak Out and When to Remain Calm

Is it ever the right time to freak out?

Do you do it anyway?

Let me take a wild guess—you’ve had your share of freak outs. I know the feeling—I have too.

And of course you’ve heard this advice a million times—don’t do it!

Because freaking out causes your stress hormones—cortisol, being the main culprit, with a surge of adrenalin and the waking-up qualities of norepinephrine—to shoot to the moon.

Not that they don’t have their benefits. Energy, focus, immediate reaction. When faced with the Wooly Mammoth (or drunken Uncle Fred), these can be helpful traits indeed.

But if we allow ourselves to stay in that stressed state, well, the results aren’t good, are they. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and sugar, decrease sex drive, and contribute to a host of other dastardly physical issues.

And of course, during the holiday season, we seem to be faced with an abundance of stress. Like it gets its kicks from egg nog and holiday lights.

Right now, right this very minute, OMG—Christmas is in 4 days. As in, 4 DAYS!! God save us! You’re not finished! Your boss will fire you (even if you’re your own boss), your spouse be mad at you, the kids think you’re lame for not producing that Norman Rockwell holiday!


So go ahead—right now, this very minute—Freak Out! Seriously, you heard me right. Go freak out!

Only 2 Rules Apply:

1. First off, you have to really go freak. With everything you have. Put your whole entire self into it, and do it up right.

  • Shake your fist at the sky
  • Scream to the heavens
  • Run around the block like that decapitated chicken
  • Dance in place as hard and fast as you can

In other words, no calmness allowed!

2. You get 10 minutes. Total. Max

  • Yep, that’s it.
  • Time it.
  • You have to use up the entire 10 minutes.
  • You can’t go past 10 minutes.

Please come back here and continue once you’re done.

Okay, all finished? Did you yell and stomp and the neighbors have called or dialed 911? Or, your dogs go run under the bed?

Then you have succeeded!

Oddly enough, this is the first step in the process—and the one that actually works—to lead you back to calm.

One of my favorite spiritual/psychological texts is a decades old book called Right Use of Will: Healing and Evolving the Emotional Body, by Ceanne DeRohan. The main premise is that in order to live a conscious life, you first must let go of repressed emotion. And screaming at the sky is one of the prescriptions. Because, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s by releasing those emotions that we find freedom from them.

And that’s the secret, no? Feel the emotions, release them, find freedom from them, and get all those stinking stress hormones out of your system.

Didn’t you come back from the exercise feeling more energetic and focused?

Now it’s time to do something with that:

1. First and foremost, breathe. Four counts in, eight counts out. Do this for a few minutes. Get that blood pressure back down to normal.

2. Take out that to-do list. Right now—this very second—do something from it. It needn’t be the most-important thing. Just do one thing—anything.

That will give you a sense of accomplishment—which is sorely needed right now.

3. Now, calmer, revisit that list. Prioritize it again.

(Note: Keep breathing while you do this.)

You can actually get a lot of the items done, no? And you know what? If you don’t, your boss mostly likely won’t fire you. Your spouse will get over it. Your kids may or may not be happy with you, but if they’re teenagers, well, what the heck else is new?

We have to laugh through some of this as well!

And besides, Uncle Fred is always drunk and obnoxious, so laugh him off too.

Wishing many blessings to you and yours in this beautiful holiday season, filled with light and love, friendship and good cheer.

This Post Has 64 Comments

  1. Awesome exercise. I promised myself this year that this holiday season would be more relaxing. The entire year I have been stressed and it has not helped me one bit. So, instead of putting out all those holiday decorations, I decided to just put out my favorites which weren’t much. I also decided to put up a projector light on the house and just a wreath around the door. That’s it. We even got a smaller tree so we were able to put up the tree In 1/2 hour. I think adding these extra tasks always makes me feel overwhelmed , but this year was different. I was able to enjoy the holiday with my family without going through the motions just to get through.

    1. Oh, that is just perfect, Sabrina! And it’s such a magical season, we don’t want to miss it by piling unnecessary tasks on our heads! Happy Holidays to you!

  2. Susan,
    Great post for this time of year and it’s true calm down or you cannot get things done . Enjoy your post. Thanks YOU. Yes Ido try to decrease the stress as much as I can, Mediation is where i am headed.
    Lori English

  3. I close my eyes and breathe exactly as you describe it here – four counts in and eight counts out. It helps if I can shut myself in somewhere and have privacy but we don’t always have that luxury, do we? What a great post!

    1. We don’t, do we, Monica! But we can still breathe even in the midst of a chaotic crowd 🙂

  4. Love the strategy of embracing the freak out with a time limit! I’ve done it and it helps. 🙂 Cortisol is my arch nemesis, so breathing techniques are critical. Not sure when life got so darn stressful. Great tips!

    1. Life can just get stressful, can’t it, Meghan. Especially this time of year! And if I don’t time it I can just spin out into the ozone!

  5. This makes so much sense, Susan. There are times we need to feel our emotions completely, even the negative ones, so we can move on and do what needs to be done. Ignoring the negative can have serious physical and mental health issues but releasing those toxins frees us to act. Timing the freak out is a brilliant idea to ensure we don’t become stuck there. PS. Love that cute dragon graphic.

    1. Ah, the healing power of releasing those toxins! And yep, if I don’t time it, I can just get stuck on the insane hamster wheel. Isn’t that dragon graphic cute, Tami!

  6. This is great and so what I needed to read today. It’s been a frustrating few days. I need to remain calm…. and keep calm.

    1. Frustrating days just seem to come with the season, don’t they, Jeanine! Breathe. Just breathe 🙂

  7. It’s amazing how easy it is to ‘freak out’ in our ‘always on’ world, Susan. This post reminded me of something I uncovered while researching a piece on left/right brain. When we get angry or feel any surging emotion, “it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream.” If it lasts after 90 seconds, it’s because we’ve chosen to let that circuit continue to run. This is probably quite shocking to most people who seem to stay in a high-cortisol state of ‘freak out’ a lot of the time.

    Thanks for the breathing exercise, as I find I can easily get riled and seem to want to solve whatever issue caused the upset before I calm down and relax again. I have stayed as far away as possible from the stress of the holiday season and would wish the same for everyone! It would go a long way to creating a calmer and more peaceful world. Happy and joyful holidays!!

    1. What a cool fact, Beverley! I love that. One thing we learned through a spiritual program years ago was that you simply can’t sustain a state of anger longer than 10 minutes without feeding it. When we’d try, we’d end up laughing!
      Isn’t breathing just the best.
      Happy Holidays to you as well!

  8. I feel like I freak out way too easily! I need to learn to step back and calm my nerves… no need to be so nervous all the time!

  9. Oh my goodness – you have tossed me a surprise on this blog Susan. I am not sure can do that but totally get the intention and calmness that be generated behind it. I am clinching my fists now and working up the freak out.. You rock.

    1. I got the best image of you clinching your fists, Teresa! Happy holidays to you!

  10. Brilliant tips! I noticed past days that I was really always irritated by someone and something. Thi is really helpful for me because this time I can be calm down.

    1. They work! This time of year, irritation seems to be the flip side of joy, doesn’t it. Breathe 🙂

  11. Thank you for the permission to freak out (really, I mean it). I haven’t even done Christmas shopping yet, and the shops go crazy at this time. On a serious note, I am not much of a freaker – I feel I need a dose of it instead.

    1. You have complete permission to freak out, Zim! And good luck with that Christmas shopping!

  12. Ok, now this was a GREAT post Susan! I have to say that “freaking out” does help A LOT! but of course I know it is not very good for my stress level and my physical health…..breathing works for me, but for those times I just have to freak out, my cats know and they go hide under my bed! I have to say I do feel much better when I do….lol I exercise reg too so that helps and I do not “freak” out as much 🙂

    Great share!

    1. Your home sounds so similar to mine, Joan, except it’s my dogs jumping under the bed. Lol. Like you, I don’t do it very often, but now and then . . . And ah, the release! Similar to that we get from exercise 🙂

  13. Wonderful blog! I shared it with a friend. I don’t think I have the energy to Freak Out – but I usually put my feelings down in my blog. That is where I let it go. Love what you are teaching!

    1. I’m laughing, Candess–that’s where my emotions come out most often as well–in my writing. Especially my fiction. As Hemingway said, “I’ve let go of so many things by writing them.”

  14. Great post! I don’t freak out and now I am thinking that maybe that is my problem, lol. I think maybe freaking out is a great stress reliever. I have always been told that I have ice in my veins when it comes to reacting to emergency situations (I am a RN and worked many years in ICU/ER).

    1. Well, you kinda have to have ice in your veins to be an RN, especially in ICU and ER! My hat’s off to you, Pam. Thank you for what you’ve done. Now, go freak out a bit 🙂

  15. Oh yes, i have certainly had my freak outs. I need to get all that stress out and then it’s done. Thanks for being honest in this post and letting us know it’s ok.

    1. Good for you, Sonya! And yep, it’s a great stress reliever so go ahead!

  16. There are so many stressors right now with the holidays. I’m sure a good 10-minute freak-out would do me some good to get it all off my chest.

    1. Isn’t it odd how the holidays bring so much stress, Crystal. Go let it out–you’ll feel so much better!

  17. Screaming does work to release those stress emotions; haven’t done so in a long time. Moving away from stressful big city living to a smaller town has been the best stress reducer. Have more time, need less money equals best stress reducer:)

    1. Oh, that is so true, Robin! I remember reading a study years ago (note to self–go find it. Lol) about how much longer folks living in rural areas lived than those in the city. So much of it was due to the slower pace! Enjoy your small town.

  18. I love this, Susan! I’ve had some pretty good freak outs in my day – some ill-advised and others just what the doctor ordered! As always, there is a huge benefit in expressing what needs to be expressed, rather than suppressing what’s there and trying to soldier on. Vive la self-expression! Especially in this practical and self-loving way!

    1. OH, I’m with you Reba–I’ve had my share of ill-advised freak outs in my day as well. Lol. But isn’t it nice to be able to channel it. Makes all the difference, no?

  19. Hi Susan,

    Funnily enough I did this yesterday when with phone in hand, list in other and staring at a screen my youngest asked for the wrapping paper.

    I knew it was somewhere in my closet but couldn’t think where. I went into the closet with my bedroom door closed and jumped up and down, yelling “I hate Christmas!” I don’t, really, it’s just there’s a lot to do this time of year.

    Then more breaths, found the wrapping paper, took it to my youngest. Back to the list. You are right, it works!

    Yay too, nice to see a fellow Comment Luvver.


    1. You gave me the best laugh, Sarah. I love that. Talk about using what’s right at your disposal–the closet! So glad that got you back to sanity!

  20. I love the thought of running around like a headless chicken to get the stress out of my system, Susan. It’s amazing how much our productivity level rises once we get the freak hormone out of our system.

    Season’s Greetings to you and your loved ones.

  21. Susan , Great message. Many years ago I lived in a very tense family situation. Finding a way to release that tension was a challenge. Walking to the river was my outlet and with that came the breath ~ offering up my pain to the river as it passed by really helped~ Blessing Pauline

    1. Oh, what a great solution, Pauline. And the river carried that pain away . . .

  22. In the past, I was know to hold things back and then oh dear now I have a mess to clean up. I really like the idea of setting a timer and voila. Time’s up. Xoxo

    1. I know that mess all too well, Natasha! And now I pre-empt it 🙂

  23. Honestly, I have fewer occasions to freak out these days so I am grateful for that. Happy Holidays!

  24. It’s so important to honour and release our stress! My favourite way to do this is running, dancing, or pretty much any cardio. It’s a kind of controlled freak-out. It definitely keeps me sane!!

    1. Great methods, Vironika! That works so well for sanity 🙂

  25. Hey Susan! one of my personality traits is that I’m mostly an open-book. In other words, I seldom have to intentionally “freak out” to clear the air. 🙂 But I agree for some people it is really important to make that happen so they can move on. One of the BEST things I have been doing is that breathing exercise. Ever since I started yoga I have really been focusing on that and it does so much good at so many times. It’s EXCELLENT for helping to turn off the mind so you can go to sleep and so much more. But your best advice of all (at least in this post!) is to remember to laugh. I don’t know about you but I often take myself and others far too seriously. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones as well. ~Kathy

    1. Laughter and breathing–what more do we need, Kathy! Hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you!

  26. Too funny.. thanks for letting me “freak out” and quite honestly.. I am guilty. I usually panic or freak out quicker than allowing myself to be rational… but then after my freak out.. I calm down and realize… well, I don’t have control of this.. so just deal with it.

  27. Some good freaking out tips for those who are stressed. We used to have this stress, but for every year we just do less of everything and what feels good…less food, less gifts (where you just spend a lot of money on things nobody wants or will use), more just staying together at Christmas.

    1. I love that, Katarina! It’s where we’ve gone as well. And oh, I so enjoyed Christmas this year!

  28. I don’t know if I can do these two things but it is worth a try. Would let you know what happens!

  29. Susan, I’m catching up with your post after the Christmas holiday, So freaking out has already come and gone. However, your suggestions will definitely be practiced on any events causing stress and exhaustion between now and the big one again in 12 months. I should have the procedure down pat by then. Thanks for taking the freaking pressure off.

    1. We’ll all be masters, won’t we, Joyce! Taking that freaking pressure off. Lol

  30. Shake your fist at the sky
    Scream to the heavens
    Run around the block like that decapitated chicken
    Dance in place as hard and fast as you can

    i like this way to freak our self. thanks for this great ost.

  31. I love that you give me permission to freak out, but just for a bit. Stuffing it all down inside isn’t good and I know it, but that is what I tend to do. I always feel better when I let things out. Great reminder to let it out, but also to let it go and move onto something productive.

    1. We have to let it out, don’t we, Christy! And then we’re so much clearer moving forward.

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