The Art and Science of Keeping Your Cool — Revised Lecture Notes 2020

The Art and Science of Keeping Your Cool

Notes, Ideas and Suggestions for Your Consideration, by Jerry Posner

“Stressing Out” — experiencing high levels of worry, tension, anxiety.  Anticipation of something “rocking my boat.”

“Losing Your Cool” — ranting, raving, yelling, raging, temper-tantrums, hissy-fits, snapping, having a meltdown.

What sorts of things might cause one to “stress out?”  For example: Changes in routine. Deadlines.  Running late.  Feeling overwhelmed by choices or tasks.  Fear of loss.  Traffic.  GPS malfunctioning.  Fear of failure/mistakes.  Other agitated people.

Stress is the body’s response to a survival threat (real or imagined).  It is a biochemical reaction within the body.  

Stressors are things (people, events, places) that an individual’s nervous system perceives or interprets as a threat.

  • Stressors differ from person to person.  For example, the same event or stimulus that causes a stress response in one person, might create a positive or exciting response in another.  
  • Stress and anxiety can potentially give us useful signals for action, help us gain insights, help us grow by facing fears.

When our brain interprets a signal that comes through our senses as threatening, the body prepares itself for danger. 

Self-protection, defensiveness and survival is programmed into our genes.  

The stress response prepared early humans for actual physical dangers, and increased the probability of their survival.


Brains work differently when we feel “threatened” by a problem … or “challenged” to find a solution!  

The “Stress Response” and INVOLUNTARY RESPONSES are triggered by structures in the limbic system, and the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.  We might “flinch” … or even rage, if the “trigger” hits an extra-sensitive point.

“TRIGGERS” — events, circumstances, communications, interactions, words, etc.;  that cause an immediate reaction (physical, emotional, behavioral) — sometimes, disproportionally dramatic!  Can be positive or negative, mild or intense.

What sorts of “stimuli” might cause one to “lose their cool?”   They may or may not be appropriate, logical or rational.

For example: Feeling disrespected, ignored, insulted, misunderstood, rejected, abandoned.  Being told “what to do.”  Irrational behavior in others. A driver cuts you off.  Unfairness.  Feeling mocked or teased.  “Fighting words.”  Parallel parking in city traffic.

“Keeping Your Cool” — remaining calm, mindful, making rational choices, responding to what’s really happening.

REACT — “Fast thinking”— Unaware of behavior & impact — automatic — impulsive

RESPOND — “Slow thinking” — Choose behavior & impact — purposeful — thoughtful 


We can possibly eliminate, or reduce, the cause or source of stress (environment, circumstances, behavior, etc.)

We can possibly change our interpretation of, and response to, the stress-triggering event or source.

What is the story we tell ourselves?

Ask yourself good questions!  Is it a genuine crisis, a challenge, or nothing much?  Is it merely annoying?  Do I just need to be more patient?  Do I need more accurate information?  Can I be compassionate?  Forgiving?  Take things in my stride?  Just let it go?  

Do I need to cease making ‘mountains out of molehills’?  Do I need a reminder, like: “This too shall pass?”  Perhaps a long walk!

  When “out-of-our-conscious-control” stress, anxiety or anger happens, avoid making it worse!  

  Remember: we are human, and we do have a limbic system!  Stress/anxiety can be managed, not always controlled.

— “Recover your cool” by self-acceptance (self-compassion).  Avoid “beating up on yourself!”  

  Breathe deeply and mindfully, with the intention of soothing and calming yourself. 

©2020 Jerry D. Posner    web:    email:  • blog:

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