How the “PEACE” method can help manage emotional responses to stress
Mental Health

Stress relief: how the “PEACE” method can help manage emotional responses to stressful situations

The PEACE method takes things back to basics with five simple steps to helping calm and control your emotional reactions.

I have always been a crier. Whether I’m happy or sad, frustrated or shocked, tears have tended to be my go-to emotional response.

But throughout the pandemic, the tears dried up and I found myself turning to other coping mechanisms to deal with the daily stress and anxiety of lockdown.

When put under pressure, we all react in different ways, and some are healthier than others. But according to Amy Saltzman, MD, a holistic physician and mindfulness coach, in times of difficulty, our choices don’t always decrease our stress. Sometimes, they actually increase it.

However, writing for Psychology Today, Saltzman puts forward the “PEACE” method as a way that we can help ourselves to heal, while still remaining realistic about the situation and it’s possible outcomes.

The premise is pretty simple. PEACE stands for pause, exhale, acknowledge and allow, choose and engage.

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Think of it like an internal stock take. When you can feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, anxious or in despair, it’s a process that can be repeated in order to calm your nerves and quiet your brain for moments of relaxation.

“When you realise that things are difficult externally, internally, or both, simply pause,” explains Saltzman about the first step of the practice.

Then, take it back to basics and exhale, allowing yourself to feel any emotions that come to the surface. After that, inhale, and repeat the process.

“As you continue to breathe, acknowledge the situation as it is,” Saltzman adds. Whether you’re dealing with continued anxiety around the pandemic, relationship frustration or work pressure, acknowledging a situation doesn’t mean that you’re happy about it. “It just means that you recognise the situation is what it is, whether you like it or not,” she writes.

How to use the PEACE method to manage your emotional response to stress
How to use the PEACE method to manage your emotional response to stress

According to Saltzman, ‘A’ can also stand for acceptance and allowing your experience. The former is important to create more space for your emotional response, and the latter to find a “way of having your thoughts and feelings without your thoughts and feelings “having you” and making you act in ways you may regret.”

“When you’re ready – and, depending on the situation, this may take a few moments, hours, days, weeks, or even months – choose how you’ll respond,” she continues.

E is for engage. “After you’ve paused, exhaled, allowed your experience, and chosen your response, you’re ready to engage: with people, with the situation, and with life. You can have the difficult conversation, set a boundary, or choose to let something be,” she suggests.

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The method is by no means groundbreaking, or a magic bullet to solve all of life’s problems. Individually, each stage is something that we should probably be incorporating into our daily lives, regardless of the situation. It’s never not a good idea to take a moment of reflection before responding, whether during an argument, job interview or on a date.

But in the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget that sometimes, it’s best to take things back to basics, and one step at a time. We might be pleasantly surprised with how effective it is.

If you think you need help managing your anxiety or stress, Anxiety UK offers support and help accessing therapy.

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