I admit that I have a tendency to freak out. Unless it's a situation that triggers my fairly severe Mama Bear instincts, I turn into a hyperventilating pile of goo in an emergency. This is why I am a writer and not say, a fireman, or political tax attorney. Thankfully, there are millions of Americans each day whose job it is to be steady in a storm, and we can learn a lot from their experience. For instance, if you find yourself in a tough situation with someone like me, you'll want to learn how to calm someone down quickly and efficiently.
There's a lot more that goes into calming someone down other than telling them to "calm down." I know that in my case, this tends to make the situation worse. I become almost hysterical. Helping someone calm down is a combination of how you approach the person, how you speak, what you project, and what you can learn by observing them, according to Symmetry Counseling, who wrote on their blog, "There is no way you are going to be able to help someone or understand them if you aren’t fully listening to what they are saying and trying to express."
I asked Mary Ryan, a retired 911 operator for the Iowa State Highway Patrol, how she de-escalated situations and calmed people down quickly.
1. Listen To Your Tone
After almost four decades as an emergency responder, Ryan found that her own tone of voice was extremely important when talking to callers who were upset.
"I spent 37 years dispatching. Lots of hot calls," she tells Romper.
During that time, she found speaking softly yielded the best results. "They had to calm down to hear me," she says.
2. Just Breathe
Sometimes something as simple as a reminder to breathe can do the trick.
"I would sometimes tell them to take a couple breaths," says Ryan.
And while it seems trite, this really does force the person to think about something (anything) else for a minute, and that can make a huge difference. When my panic attacks hit, it can really help just to have someone breathe with me for a minute.
3. Consider How You'd Want To Be Treated
One thing everyone needs in an emergency is a little extra kindness.
"I treated everyone as family," says Ryan. "I once spent two hours and 45 minutes talking to a man on Christmas Eve out of suicide. We just chatted and I had a different way of looking at things than he did." A seemingly small gesture, but one that saved a life, as Ryan continues:
"It worked out ok. He went to the hospital and even called a couple of days later to thank me. Just treat people like you want to be treated."
It feels like something we should know, but we just don't put into practice. And can I just say how grateful I am that people like Mary Ryan exist? 911 operators have an incredibly stressful job, and they get people through their worst days, and keep coming back and do it over and over again. Bless them.
4. Keep Calm Yourself.
It goes without saying that in order to calm someone down, you must be calm yourself.
"You have to remain calm," says Ryan. "People sense it and calm down with you."
When I was in undergrad, I had a psych professor tell me that "people will mirror your behavior if you're the one in charge." That means if you're projecting an aura of calm, they're likely to follow suit.
So the next time you find yourself in the position of the calm in the storm, take a deep breath, assess, and go forward.
This first-time mom wants to have a home birth, but is she ready? Watch how a doula supports a military mom who's determined to have a home birth in Episode One of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for the next three episodes, launching Mondays in December.