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August 3, 2014
by Lisa La Rose, M.A., L.P.C.

Grace Under Pressure: The Art of Being Unflappable

August 3, 2014 02:55 by Lisa La Rose, M.A., L.P.C.

Have you ever heard someone described as being “unflappable”?  Perhaps that’s an old fashion term, but it brings to mind qualities that are very helpful in navigating ordinary daily life and extraordinary events or crisis.  Our personal lives and our work lives can be filled with tense moments, conflict, and competing demands.   Life also delivers ups and downs in the form of job losses, cheating spouses, major illnesses, and death.  Being able to manage these difficult times effectively requires skills that anyone can learn. Not only is being unflappable an admirable and beneficial quality in times of crisis, it can also be good for your mental health.

Keeping your head

In the first line of his poem, If, Rudyard Kipling begins by saying, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” (as cited in Poetry Foundation, 2014).  This definitely describes a quality of the unflappable person. The Miriam Webster dictionary also gives us a number of words to describe the unflappable person.   They tend to be calm, composed, placid, untroubled, steady, cool-headed, level-headed, imperturbable, and “not easily confused or upset, especially in a crisis” (Merriam-Webster, 2013). These are the people who can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and move forward, no matter what is going on around them.

But most people are not born being unflappable.  They have learned and developed the skills they need to keep their cool when situations heat up.  They do not allow events in the world around them to steal their sense of peace.   There may be times when they are accused of being cold, stoic, or uncaring, but that is not the case.  They recognize that becoming agitated, angry, or panicked rarely helps, and often makes a bad situation worse for everyone involved.

You, too, can be unflappable

It is not just doctors, firefighters or police who need to remain calm in the face of tense, dangerous, or chaotic situations.  Things like business meetings, parenting, and even family reunions can all be fraught with tension and conflict.  Everyone has their own needs and opinions, and tensions and emotions can run high.  Before you know it, people are arguing and attacking one another. 

Every evening on the nightly news, we also see the adversities that befall ordinary people like us. Homes are swept away by floods or tornados, and people lose loved ones to accidents or illness.  The unflappable person can bring a sense of calm to even the most difficult and stressful situations.  They can be the “rock” for those who need a solid shoulder to cry on because they can hold up under the pressure.  They have feelings like everyone else, but they don’t lose control of them.  If you want to learn how to be a bit more unflappable, and keep your own stress level down at the same time, here are some skills you can develop:

 ·         Learn how to stay centered and grounded.  Practice meditation or another mindfulness technique to learn how to bring yourself back when your mind gets carried away.  This can also help you avoid being carried away by the emotions of others.

·         Develop the ability to keep things in perspective and see the big picture.  During a crisis, people can get tunnel vision. They can become bogged down in details and attached to their own opinions and agendas, while losing sight of overall goals.  Remember what’s really important.  The house may be gone, but no one is hurt.

·         Deactivate your “buttons”. This means taking the time to know yourself and your triggers.  Know what tends to get you angry, upset, hurt, or confused.  For example, when someone raises their voice, do you become fearful and want to escape?

·         Pause before you respond to people or situations. Step back and assess the situation.  Give yourself an opportunity to choose your response, instead of simply reacting.

·         Learn not to personalize situations and the behavior of others. When people are angry or upset, they may lash out and attack one another.  Firmly and calmly set boundaries, when needed.

·         Maintain your compassion and tolerance for the people involved in the situation. If you find yourself becoming irritable, angry or frustrated, take a break.

·         Keep your sense of humor:  Try to stay as light-hearted as possible (and appropriate).  Humor can help diffuse some really tense situations.

·         Breathe and stay in tune with your body. Tense or chaotic situations can trigger our unconscious flight or fight system.

 Being unflappable is good for you

It’s easy to see how being unflappable can be a real benefit in difficult situations.  By keeping your composure, you can mediate conflict and help ensure good outcomes.  You can also help others remain calm, and prevent escalation and deterioration of tense situations.  But there are other benefits for you.  You may notice that the list of skills above also sound like the characteristics of an emotionally healthy person.

Learning to stay cool and composed under stress is good for your state of mind and for your health.  According to a recent study in Australia, the meditation practice that helps you stay present in tough situations can also decrease your blood pressure (Tedesco, 2012).  The skills needed to be unflappable can also help you overcome anxiety or depression.  You will develop better self- awareness which can help to clarify your own feelings and needs, while also helping others navigate conflict or adversity.


1.      (2013). Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

2.      Kipling, R. (2013). If—. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

3.      Tedesco, L. (2012). 7 Weird Ways To Lower Blood Pressure. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from

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