Even-keeled women are made, not born—tips from experts and real-life women that will help you find balance all day, every day.
Maybe you’ve seen her: The woman who picks up her kids after school while balancing a briefcase and a baby, but never breaks a sweat. Maybe you know her: The woman who’s late for an important meeting who still allows three people in front of her in the checkout line. Maybe you are her: A calm, centered woman who keeps her cool no matter what life throws at her.
If you’re anything but calm and centered, you might be wondering how she does it. The good news is that even-keeled women are made, not born—and we’ve rounded up a plethora of tips from experts and real-life women that will help you find balance all day, every day. Here are the things calm, centered women do:
They take time for self care
Dr. Mary Wingo, author of “The Impact of the Human Stress Response,” told me “When the stress response mechanism becomes fatigued, the affected body part becomes exhausted. These affected parts can include the mind, as well as all other organs.” Dr. Wingo recommends that women under stress remain conscious of the need to “repair.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a walk first thing every morning or a weekly massage—schedule your time to repair as a priority.
They think about what—and how—they’re eating
Jessica Haney, founder of the Mindful Healthy Life blog and a mother of two in Northern Virginia, says clean eating is important—but so is considering other things you might be missing. She emphasizes that it’s not just what you take in, it’s how you do so: “Calm, centered women eat, and only eat, or maybe have a quiet conversation. They don’t do ‘power’ lunches, and they don’t eat while they’re driving or doing something else. Vitamins and minerals can’t be absorbed without calm.”
They think about what comes out of their mouths
Child and adolescent counselor Sarah Zalewski of Connecticut believes calm, centered women practice mindfulness, “Centering your mind on the present moment and experiencing it fully. I encourage people to do so on a regular basis, at least five minutes twice per day. Mindfulness has some amazing benefits, and I notice in families that use this practice that their communication becomes more positive. Their self-views are better, their patience increases, and their self-reported stress levels lessen.”
They combine movement with relaxation
Julie, a librarian in Lowell, Massachusetts, says that trying to find balance led her to attempt an exercise and stretch class—and then stand-up paddle-board yoga. “I had never been on a paddleboard and I’d only been practicing yoga for eight weeks—made perfect sense to sign up, right? But I wanted to get out on that water so badly I stuck with it.” She found her struggles with anxiety and mourning her father-in-law’s recent death dissipating. “I learned what happens if you fall off your board mid-pose: You get wet. The world doesn’t end.”
They do one thing at a time
Lynn, a writer from New York City, says she’s never known anyone more centered than her hairdresser. “She was actually coloring and cutting on my hair on 9/11 as the towers were falling. NPR was on, and I kept gasping and freaking out while she calmly worked along. Later I asked her how she had stayed so calm. She said she had not really been listening to the events unfold because she was doing her job. Since then, I’ve noticed: she is always focused on just one thing, doing her job. And of course, that’s why the time I spend in her chair is always very relaxing (plus, you know, my hair looks good).”
They either step away from the screen or they use it deliberately and mindfully
Kimberly, a Manhattan PR expert, knows that too much time at the computer isn’t ideal, but when she does need to sit down in front of it, she uses it to her advantage: “I use the Headspace app every day, about an hour before I sit down at my desk. There’s a lot of noise all day in my job—if not kept in check, it can become a little overwhelming—and I’ve found sitting for 10 minutes and clearing my mind first thing to be vital. It helps me to be more organized and productive.” Too much screen time can affect adults as well as children, damaging sleep cycles and ratcheting up anxiety.
They pray, or use daily reflection, or both
Mindful reflection has helped Lisa, a Minnesota-based PR expert, go from warp speed to zen speed. “I think some of my clients might prefer a more aggressive publicist,” she says. “But I know I’m a better person all around now that meditation is part of my daily life.” She’s definitely on to something, since top neuroscientists say that mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress, and even lower blood pressure, especially as it helps people recognize when something is a thought, rather than reality.
They read, especially good fiction
Studies show that reading is good for you: It stimulates the brain, reduces stress, increases knowledge … But reading also helps you to be good to others. In 2013, researchers at The New School discovered that literary fiction increased its readers’ capacity for and understanding of other people’s situations and psychology. Pick up a good book, a really good book, and you might just pick up some good vibes, too.
They live in the moment
Dr. Lisa Long of Charlotte, North Carolina, has worked with soldiers in the Middle East and back home in the US. She reminds them that “mindfulness is effective because it raises awareness of the current situation while detracting the individual’s attention from what is outside of their control. Simple statements to oneself can help, like asking yourself, “What am I feeling now, what am I smelling now, what am I tasting now, what am I seeing now.” These will help you get in touch with connecting with the here and now. Getting in touch with what is happening around you will allow you to enjoy the present moment. I encourage my clients to think of when they were in the shower: Think of the last time they actually felt the water, listened to the water splashing, smelled the soap. Most of us spend so much time planning our days—but missing out on simple moments like the shower.”
They indulge somehow (it doesn’t have to be a brownie!)
It’s science: Taking time off leads to increased productivity, and having lots of small breaks and treats is good for the psyche. You don’t have to eat your own weight in chocolate to make this work. Schedule a 10-minute walk around the block when you’re on deadline. Allow whipped cream on your latte once a week. Buy a new lipstick occasionally. Calm, centered women know that small perks can add up to big smiles.
They keep clutter at bay
As many organizational experts will tell you, there is a link between clutter and depression. But it was scientifically proven in a 2012 UCLA study that found a link between a “high density of household objects” and a high level of stress hormones in the women living with those objects. Mothers who felt their homes were chaotic were most likely to have high amounts of diurnal cortisol. While it isn’t easy to minimize, eliminating clutter may make Mama happy. And when Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.
They KonMarie their stuff
Even if you don’t adhere to her dictum about keeping only items that “spark joy,” you might be interested in organizing guru Marie Kondo’s guidelines (okay, rules) for how to fold clothing and household linens. Once you’ve tried tucking your t-shirts into thirds and standing them up in the drawer, you’ll never go back—because you’ll find it’s easier than ever to locate the one you want. Staying organized reduces those awful moments of frantically searching for your other shoe or your son’s birth certificate when it’s ten minutes till camp registration.
They don’t sweat the small stuff—or the large stuff
True story: When I got married, I asked the priest who counseled us how I should cope with stress about military-spouse decorum. He said “Bethanne, don’t sweat the small stuff!” A few minutes later, I asked him how I might cope with fear of my husband’s deployment. Without missing a beat, he said “Bethanne, don’t sweat the big stuff!” Perhaps he wasn’t the world’s best counselor—but he was also on to something. We’re not in control, so why waste time sweating?
They’re ready for company, whether or not their houses are
On her blog the Nester, Myquillyn (she doesn’t mind if you can’t pronounce her name!) has a wonderful post about why a calm, centered woman doesn’t care whether her house is clean or not when she invites a guest in: If you don’t let someone in when things are messy, you’re saying you don’t trust them. “Inviting someone into your home is a high form of trust,” she writes, and she acknowledges that it can sometimes be painful—but calm, centered women know that people and hospitality are more important than a pile of laundry, a broken chair, or any other things. “Hospitality isn’t about me. It’s about you who come into my home. It’s about listening and connecting and encouraging. It’s about rest and peace and fun.”
They know not all parents behave alike
There’s a reason Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book called “The Good-Enough Parent”: There is no such thing as a perfect parent! Bettelheim based his book on the findings of British doctor D.W. Winnicott, whose work was centered on mothers. The important thing for calm, centered women is that good-enough parents do not expect perfection from themselves—or from their children. They respect their children as individuals, nurture their children’s experience of childhood, and use empathy towards their children as well as themselves.
They have strong—but flexible—boundaries
In their book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend explain that we all need to have boundaries in order to have self-esteem, because our boundaries define us as individuals. That doesn’t mean our boundaries have to be impenetrable fortress walls; they can be more like bouncy-castle walls if our primary relationships are healthy and functional. Women who are calm and centered recognize the value of boundaries and adjust their own as needed.
They pay attention to the news, but know it’s not the whole story
Most of us read and watch local and global news, but it can be very upsetting. Dr. John Rich of Drexel University’s Healing Hurt People program shared tips with the LA Daily News about how to cope. He says understand that you’re not going crazy when you see something about a bad event. Have a safety plan for yourself and your loved ones, and keep it written down and on your person. Monitor your news intake so you don’t up your stress levels, and do the same for children and anyone who might be particularly affected.
They strengthen their muscles
Running and weightlifting three times a week has transformed Jean’s energy, both physical and psychic. “It helps me accept that things pass in time,” says the upstate New York-based literary agent. “My mind is fixated only on breathing and stepping when I’m running and my stress melts away. Weight-lifting with a little boxing interval at the end is a guaranteed way to ensure a calm buzz for a day or two. That I feel proud that I completed a workout (even it wasn’t a stellar performance) helps me continue to change the internal negative narrative that we all battle.”
They also strengthen their compassion muscles
This doesn’t just mean donating to your favorite cause. Psychotherapist Gina Della Penna of Garden City, Long Island, suggests that you “create kind moments,” such as holding the door open for the person behind you, making eye contact while thanking your local barista, or allowing a mom with a crying child to take your place in line. “Such moments give you an opportunity, even briefly, to connect and think about someone other than yourself.”
They employ routines: Some elaborate, some simple
Most calm, centered women who are also mothers know how important routines are for babies and children. However, routines are also important for adults: they allow space for creative and personal thoughts. If you set out breakfast items at night, you don’t have to think about doing so in the morning before you’ve had your coffee. If you know where your running shoes are, you’ll be less likely to skip your workout.
They practice the ‘two-minute rule’
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg encourages people to employ something he calls “the two-minute rule:” If something you need to do can be completed within the space of two minutes, do it now. Duhigg isn’t the originator or only proponent of this rule, but he uses it to illustrate how you can make a two-minute task into a habit—and that’s powerful, because the more good habits you make, the more calm and centered you’ll be.
They have a real or virtual gratitude journal
In her book The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan writes about her experience with keeping various types of gratitude alive in her life. That doesn’t mean, she explains, that you are expecting everything to go smoothly—bad things will still happen. But by paying attention to things you’re thankful for, you will be taking action in a positive direction. Kaplanrecommends keeping a journal—a special one just for gratitude—so that you can turn back to it and remember that even when you had a rough time, you were still grateful—even if it’s just because your partner remembered to take out the trash.
They don’t rush
Don’t underestimate the power of a deep breath. “When things don’t go the way you expected, staying calm can be a challenge,” says artist and Hatha yoga practitioner Debora Balardini of New York City. She recommends slowing down with steady breathing and remembering that other lives aren’t as privileged as your own. “A sense of gratitude is always a good place to start calming down and centering yourself.”
They know the best-laid plans often derail
San Diego local Kathleen Lisson teaches meditation, and includes in her lessons the fact that calm, centered women “are aware and accepting when they are not calm and centered.” Lisson encourages people to be aware of and wake up to their emotions, even the so-called “negative” ones, like crankiness, anger, and sadness. “Cultivating an acceptance of our emotions, good and bad, can take away the stress of trying to be someone we are not.”
They crunch, munch, nibble, sip—and chew
No, you don’t want to start grinding your teeth at night—that’s absolutely the opposite of what a calm, centered woman does! However, studies have shown that chewing gum, crunching popcorn, and sipping tea can all lower your stress levels. Chewing gum has even been shown to increase alertness, but please, keep your mouth closed while you’re chewing so that you don’t stress out the people around you.
They keep organized via systems
Author of The Clutter Book, Marcie Lovett is a professional organizer and frequent speaker to groups who want to learn more about how to get and stay organized. Lovett, to her clients’ frequent surprise, doesn’t advocate cleaning methods or pretty fabric bins—she’s all about having her clients figure out systems that will work for them and keep working for them. She knows that people are calmer when they can not only locate their scissors, but also locate their tape, wrapping paper, address book, and stamps.
They bust a move, or burst into song
Ann Green of Shineology is a certified exercise instructor who encourages clients and, really, everyone, to take time for singing and dancing. “Car rides are the perfect time for what I call ‘car-ee-oh-kee’ and a few stretches or dance moves,” says Green.
They stop and smell the flowers, or lavender oil, or even coffee
Elena Hight is a snowboarder and two-time Olympian who knows how important the senses can be when it comes to staying balanced. She uses Epsom salts because they soothe her sore muscles after a workout—and also because they can give her an aromatherapy lift if they’re scented. While there’s no scientific link between lavender and relaxation, there is a scientific link between smelling scents you like and getting calm.
They use verbal buffers
Kara, a content-strategy director in Austin, Texas, believes that there’s always cause for a pause. “Underreact. You lose nothing by delaying your irate reaction, and everything to gain by allowing time to give you perspective and a persuasive response,” she says.
They knead, squeeze, dig, and brush
Annie, a writer in Arlington, Virginia, gets away from her keyboard and into her garden to keep stress at bay; her gorgeous hostas and begonias are a testament to how well she does that. Women who want to stay calm might bake loaves of sourdough, clutch a stress ball, or spend some time brushing their hair. The trick is to use repetitive, physical motion to allow your mind a break from mental toil. If your main work is repetitive and physical, try the opposite: Get lost in a crossword puzzle or a demanding book to wind down.
They aren’t afraid to spend time alone
As psychologist Sherry Bourg Carter explains in Psychology Today, solitude reboots the brain, improves concentration, helps you think deeply, and much, much more. She recommends closing a door, disconnecting, getting up early, taking lunch alone, and scheduling down time so that you can take advantage of time alone, which can restore you to your own purpose and voice—and thereby leave you ready to communicate with and help others when you open that door and reconnect.
They plan vacations—even if they don’t get to take them
“I’ve been traveling for most of my adult life and have got to live in many different countries.” says Vancouver life coach Sarah Wall. “While traveling might seem chaotic to some, being on the road and meeting different people, and learning about other cultures both energizes me and keeps me centered.” Interestingly enough, recent studies have shown that planning a vacation, especially with a loved one, can raise spirits and promote well-being, even if you never take the trip. It really is the journey and not the arrival that matters.
They reach out when necessary
Nina Dewar, a U.K.-based hypnotherapist, reminds her clients that social connections are an important component of well-being. “From a neuroscientific point of view it is important,” she says. “If you want to get benefits from the work you are doing, you need to take the time to feel the emotions in your body that accompany that work—otherwise you do not activate the right centers in your brain and create new neuromaps leading to long-term happiness and satisfaction.”
They look out of windows and get out-of-doors
Getting outside can help you de-stress, but experts now say even a jug of flowers, a row of potted plants, or an open window can give you a lift and a reminder of the natural world. Heather, a DC-based lobbyist, swears by a nature walk to keep her cool: “Taking a stroll and seeing trees, the river, birds-—these help me remember that there’s more to life than meetings and paperwork.”
They speak kindly to themselves
Los Angeles-based spiritual empath Tracee Dunblazier is a firm believer in kind, conscious self-talk, and often recommends the use of affirmations to her clients. She says, “Affirmations are an amazing way to subtly shift conscious thinking patterns. Whether to diminish, balance or expand life current life experiences. The one I use for money and prosperity consciousness is: Money comes to me from sources known and unknown all the time. I always have more than what I need. For fear and anxiety: I am safe and exactly where I need to be right now. I am guided and protected by the ultimate wisdom.”
They know it isn’t usually about them
Ann Marie, an advertising professional from Wisconsin, says, “When something comes up and someone is aggravated, I assume it’s not about me—that person has something in their lives they’re dealing with. I’d rather use my problem-solving brain cells than my worry brain cells.” She says that travel in less-fortunate countries and caring for someone chronically ill has reset her anxiety: “Is this thing crossing my path an actual problem, or is it a societal/cultural expectation that I don’t need to meet?”
They don’t ask “What if?”
“I am the calmest I person I know,” says Kathleen, a publishing executive from New Jersey. “My secret is this: draw strength from your broken places. Those are the places that remind you of who you are, what you’ve been through, and that you survived. “
Kathleen, a business consultant near Boston, says, “I think competent listeners have an advantage when it comes to manifesting a sense of calm. By keeping their head focused on a narrative, they are focused on a virtual ‘horizon,’ and that enables them to hold an even keel in smooth or choppy waters.”
They wind down
Dr. Lawrence Epstein of Harvard University says, “Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming.” An expert on sleep hygiene, Dr. Epstein recommends a quiet, calming evening routine that is like a “happy hour” for the brain, reminding it that the hectic pace of the day is ending and hours of rest will soon begin. Whether it’s a warm bath, some warm milk, or a warm blanket, your way of signaling sleep should be easy and regular.
They get a good night’s sleep
Dr. Carolyn Dean knows that good sleep keeps calm, centered women on the right path. “Lack of sleep puts stress on the body and depletes the body of the anti-stress mood mineral magnesium, as well as other mood-enhancing vitamins such as B1. Serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical that is boosted artificially by some medications, depends on magnesium for its production and function.” Dr. Dean emphasizes that lack of sleep could exacerbate a magnesium deficiency, magnifying stress and anxiety. There are certain foods that can help you sleep, but since not all forms of magnesium are easily absorbed by the body, she recommends magnesium citrate powder that can be mixed with hot or cold water and sipped at work or at home throughout the day.