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How to Be Anxious and Calm

“Anxiety is a jab in the jaw for your attention,” says world champion surfer Shaun Tomson and best-selling author of The Surfer and the Sage: A Guide to Survive & Ride Life’s Waves. “It gets your heart beating, your senses tingling, and your body ready for action.” Tomson knows something about anxiety and calm. He has needed both while competing internationally, surviving killer waves, and navigating the emotional devastation of losing a child. Tomson recommends two simple yet profound activities to help people know how to be anxious and calm.

Calm Within the Storm

You’ve heard the phrase, calm within the storm. While anxiety provides the adrenalin and the heightened senses to engage in something new or challenging, it’s the calm that allows us to concentrate and execute to perfection. We need both.


We talk about anxiety as if it’s a bad thing. It isn’t. It’s a response to stimuli. According to mentalhealth.org, anxiety “can spur us on, help us stay alert, make us aware of risks and motivate us to solve problems.”

However, too much anxiety or stress can impact our mind and body. Symptoms can include fearing the worst, feeling panicky, having difficulty concentrating, irritability, feeling detached from others and the world around you.

Long term anxiety can stress the body beyond normal amounts and lead to digestive problems, headaches, muscle tension, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, weight gain, sleep problems, and more.  


We all want to be calm. We know the fleeting feeling of the opposite of nervousness, anger, or other strong emotions. Dr. Ben Bernstein, a noted psychologist who has specialized in anxiety for fifty years and the author of Crush Your Test Anxiety: How to Be Calm, Confident, and Focused on any Test says, “A good way of explaining calm is being in the zone. A great athlete is motivated. They are confident, and focused, and calm.”

Being calm allows the athlete to focus and be in that important moment. Their breathing is controlled. Their heartrate is controlled. They are in control. Bernstein says he uses a three-legged stool to help people understand the value of all three principles—calm, confident, and focused. “You need your calm leg along with your confident leg and focused leg to have strong support.”

How to Be Anxious and Calm

To be both motivated and in control, we need to be both anxious and calm. Shaun Tomson shares, “I discovered that anxiety can be controlled, first through breath and then with clearing thoughts.”

Box Breathing

Box breathing is a helpful technique to maintain the intensity needed to accomplish a difficult challenge while helping the body remain calm. Simply think of a box and breathe along the lines of that box. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, hold for four seconds. Repeat.

This breathing exercise will calm your nervous system, reduce anxiety, and lower your heart rate, while keeping you focused on the important task.

Empty the Mind

Emptying the mind allows us to clear unnecessary thoughts and concerns. It’s like weeding a garden. Just like there are weeds that can choke a garden, there are thoughts that can choke our mind. Too many concerns and worries choke out more important thoughts, particularly those needed in the moment.

A practice of meditation can help us learn to empty our mind of distractions. Daily meditation helps people sleep better, worry less, reduce health issues, and have more joy in their life.

To empty the mind and learn to meditate, even in a stressful moment, focus on the moment not the future. Learn to be in the moment. Activities like journaling, walking, yoga, creative activities, and repetitive motion help focus the mind and weed out unhelpful thoughts.  

A Surfer’s Guide to How to Be Anxious and Calm

Tomson shares in his latest book The Surfer and the Sage the benefit and effects of these two activities–both emptying the mind and controlled breathing. “I would breathe slowly and deeply, rhythmically, and the fluid motion would still my beating heart, and, through focus and concentration, through thought and control, I would let go of being anxious and find my inner calm.

“I would bring the fear and anxiety of an uncertain future and potential failure to my locus of control in the present. And then I would start to paddle for the next wave, and my actions and forward motion would dispel the anxiety like a clearing and calming wind . . . “


While we all have moments of anxiety and calm, we really need to know how to be anxious and calm. There’s just a lot we want to accomplish in our lives and we need these skills to do it. Learning to be a bit anxious and calm by using mindfulness and breathing techniques can help us, as Dr. Bernstein recommends, be, “calm, confident, and focused.”

Christopher Robbins is the co-founder of Familius. While not a champion surfer, he has used box breathing and meditation to help him navigate his family of nine children and accomplish hundreds of his life goals. You can listen to Robbins explore ideas to help families be happy on the Familius Helping Families Be Happy podcast.