3 Tools To Handle Conflict and Stress In A Healthy Way


We’ve all been there. We get shocking news and before we have time to take a breath, we react. We scream, we yell, we say something that we don’t mean.

There isn’t a person on this planet who can say that they have never acted on pure emotion when it may have been more appropriate to act reasonably and rationally.

Now, this isn’t to say that emotional responses are bad. In fact, I believe that our emotions are our most powerful source of knowledge and truth.

However, it doesn’t always work in our favor to respond to a situation based purely on our emotions.

We have to think reasonably about the space we’re in and whose feelings are also involved in the situation.

It’s usually most productive to take a deep breath and to calm down before reacting.

But that takes a certain skill set that most of us haven’t yet mastered.

Here are a few helpful acronyms to remember and to practice as we find the best ways to handle our emotions.

1. Open The Front Door:

I am Observing, Thinking, Feeling, Desiring

This one is great to use in conflicts. I have used this tool in arguments with my friends, family, and co-workers. It can be as personal or as distanced as you need it to be, depending on the situation.

Before using this one, we have to understand the difference between thoughts and feelings.

Thoughts, also known as cognitions, are ideas that we have about particular situations or stimuli. “I think that’s unfair” or “I think I screwed up” are two examples of thoughts.

Emotions are different, and can be summed up into a few categories: sad, glad, mad, scared, and ashamed.

A lot of folks get the two confused, but the distinction is important for this tool.

Here’s how Open The Front Door works:

  • Observing: First, say what you physically, literally see. “I can see that you’re mad” doesn’t work in this situation because that’s only a speculation based on what you see, and it’s not necessarily what the other person is trying to express. Instead try, “I can see that you’re tapping your fingers and holding your breath.” This tells the person that you are present in the moment and that you are tuned in to what is going on.
  • Thinking: Next, say what you think about what you see. “I think that means that you’re mad, and I think that you have every right to feel that way” is great.
  • Feeling: After that comes how you feel. “I feel hurt that you’ve closed your mind to what I’m trying to say.”
  • Desiring: Finally, state your desire or what you want to change. “I want to be able to speak without interruption.”

All together, it goes like this: “I can see that you’re tapping your fingers and holding your breath. I think that means that you’re mad, and I think that you have every right to feel that way. I feel hurt that you’ve closed your mind to what I’m trying to say, and I want to be able to speak without interruption.”

I don’t know about you, but I often want to handle conflicts by calling the other person a rude name and storming off.

That has not gotten me anywhere – ever.

Open The Front Door is a much healthier alternative.

You can (and probably will) use this tool multiple times in the course of a single conversation.

Ideally, each person should speak using this tool. Using “I” statements and taking ownership of our own thoughts, feelings, and desires is especially important in handling conflicts responsibly and thoughtfully.

2. IMPROVE the moment:

Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing at a time, Vacation, Encouragement

IMPROVE is a fantastic tool for de-escalating situations that feel like they may turn into (or already are) crisis level.

When someone hits you with terrible news and you feel like you’re going to snap, take a moment, and use this acronym to ground yourself before responding.

The beauty of this tool in particular is that it happens over time. Some elements are meant to be done in the moment, and some are for you to come back to after the dust has settled.

It might seem weird to the other person if you close your eyes for 30 seconds, but if it helps you to maintain your cool, it’s worth it.

  • Imagery: Go to your happy place. Seriously. Imagine an ocean or a field of wildflowers. Take a deep breath and breathe in the smell of the sea or the crispness in the air.
  • Meaning: Make meaning of what is happening. This one may take time. Try to remember that everything is an opportunity for growth and personal improvement. I know it’s easy to forget, especially in the heat of the moment, but try to remember to come back to it if you can’t process it in the moment.
  • Prayer: Obviously, this means something different for everyone. Prayer may mean something very traditional to one person, or it may mean asking the energy of the earth to guide someone else through a difficult time. Whatever prayer means to you, find a way to use it as a tool in difficult situations.
  • Relaxation: This is so important! Remind yourself to relax after the dust has settled.
  • One thing at a time: Reiterate to yourself and to everyone else that you can only do one thing at a time. You can’t take on 50 new projects at work, you can’t juggle all of your friend’s drama with your own, you can’t play on 6 different sports teams. In order to be truly present and authentic, you have to focus on one thing at a time. Give yourself permission to do that, even though our fast paced world tells you otherwise.
  • Vacation: Plan a vacation. Imagine your upcoming vacation. Take a vacation. Do all or any combination of the three. Remember, a vacation can mean a 3-week Caribbean cruise or it can mean a day in a neighborhood park. What’s important is that you turn your phone off, close your agenda book, and be present in whatever way you choose to vacation.
  • Encouragement: This one is easy. Encourage yourself to stay calm and to handle the situation the best way you can. You can do it and you know you can.

3. PLEASE care for your body to care for your emotions:

Physical health, Loving energy, Exercise, Avoid drugs, Sleep, Eat

You know what it’s like when your body feels too run down to function? When you can hardly get out of bed in the morning, let alone juggle all of the responsibilities that everyone depends on you for?

We all do. Before we can show up to our lives emotionally, we have to show up physically. That’s what this tool addresses.

Caring for our bodies is an incredibly important piece of emotional regulation that we often overlook.

It ties into what we already know about self care: our minds, hearts, and souls can’t be well if our bodies aren’t.

We are complex machines and each part of us needs to run well in order for us to be healthy.

  • Physical health: Stay on top of doctor’s appointments, take your vitamins, and treat your body with the kindness it deserves.
  • Loving energy: This one sounds silly. What makes you feel energized and excited? What makes your heart sing? Find a way to work this into your routine, and stick with it. Your body will thank you.
  • Exercise: It’s good for your mind and body. It releases endorphins, helps to facilitate sleep, and is often fun!
  • Avoid drugs: I know you’ve heard this from your seventh grade gym teacher, but it’s real. Drugs aren’t great for your body, and they are definitely not great for your mind. We need to practice moderation (and safety!) at the very least, but abstinence is best.Who has ever woken up from a night of heavy drinking and felt great? Who has ever smoked weed to prepare for an exam? No one. And there’s a reason for that.
  • Sleep: Seven to nine hours, every night, no excuses. Your mind and your body both need this. Find a way to make it work. It just has to.
  • Eat: Your body needs nourishment to function. Fill your body with the nutrition that it needs to do all of the amazing things that it does for you.

Remembering to do any or all of these tools can be difficult, especially because they’re new. You can create a reminder for yourself like a small note with the acronyms on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator.

When you’re upset, you can use the time to find the note to take a few breaths and ground yourself too.

These are just some ways to handle difficult moments. Do you find them helpful? In what other ways do you deal with conflict and stress? Please share below!

Sarah Ogden is a Staff Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a graduate student in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is focusing on clinical work with survivors of trauma, works at a domestic violence agency as a therapist intern, and volunteers as an abortion and pregnancy loss doula. Previously, she’s worked for a suicide and rape crisis hotline and as an emergency room advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Follow her on Twitter @xsogden.