Life and living it is not engineered to be linear.

Everything won’t go according to plan. You can easily fall back into the abyss of chaos — it’s your response to the chaos that can keep sane.

No one can adequately prepare for massive uncertainties. In times of crisis, the most elemental human response has always been panic and fear. Fear is a universal experience.

In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron says, “It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”

Life is a good teacher. Things are always in transition — it’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. If you can build better ways to respond to chaos, your brain won’t quickly rush to fight or flight mode.

Kris Lee, Ed.D., a professor at Northeastern University, behavioural science expert and author of Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking: Learn What it Takes to be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World, explains, “When something happens, our brain’s automatic response is to be reactive. When our amygdala, the small part of our brain that regulates fight or flight is set off, we have to avoid taking the bait of our raw emotional reactions that make us want to overreact.”

In times of chaos, people who have naturally strong self-regulation skills or resilience handle unpredictability well, but for millions of people who don’t, things can feel out of control.

Tough times make or break people

In his book, SHIFT, Gary Keller describes how we need to have a “mental shift” before we can take an “action shift.” “Meaning, if our minds haven’t adjusted to our current state of affairs, we can’t fully operate in a way that will allow us to succeed within them,” he explains.

How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart — when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The good news is, you can train your brain to self-regulate, adapt, and build an antifragile life to prepare and thrive even in the face on panic and uncertainty.

Most of us move along the spectrum between our best and our worst all day long, depending on what’s going on around us. You may not have complete control of your emotions all the time, but you have more influence over how you feel than you think.

Self-regulation skill is necessary for reliable emotional well being. It involves taking a pause between a feeling and an action — taking the time to think things through things happening to us and around us, making a smart plan, and taking the right rational action to move forward. It allows us to stay calm under pressure.

Self-regulation is increasingly becoming the premier skill of the 21st century. It’s an important predictor of mental health, social relationship, academic achievement and work performance.

When it comes to controlling our behaviours, self-regulation is about pumping the brakes or shifting gears, whatever the situation is. When you teach the brain to self-regulate, you can focus better and be calm times of uncertainty. Every time you respond better to a difficult situation, a specific neuronal pattern is stimulated and becomes strengthened in your brain.

Debbie Hampton explains: “When you first try to adopt a new behaviour, you have to enlist your prefrontal cortex, the thinking brain, and insert conscious effort, intention, and thought into the process. When you’ve performed the new routine enough times for connections to be made and strengthened in your brain, the behaviour will require less effort as it becomes the default pattern.”

The quickest way to deal with stress, says Margaret Moore, co-founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital/ Harvard Medical School, is to summon a positive emotion.

In her experience as a counsellor, the most successful people are able to cultivate a three to one balance between positive and negative thoughts: “What we’re really talking about is using your brain’s most precious resource, which is your attention, in the way that it allows you to accomplish the most and make the biggest impact on the world.”

The human mind is the most adaptable tool there is — make it work for you. No matter what happens, you can adapt, cope, and stay calm.

This very moment is the perfect teacher. In times like these, it’s important to remember that it’s what we do that defines us, not what happens to us. Train your brain to stay calm in the midst of chaos and you will be able to choose the smartest possible response in every stressful situation.

This article was originally published on Medium.

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