Life & Business

How To Stay Calm

by Adam J. Kurtz

How To Stay Calm – Adam J. Kurtz for Design*Sponge

When Grace Bonney invited me to start a regular column for Design*Sponge in 2015, I had no idea that it would go on to shift my career and perspective in such a profound way. We began just as I was starting my own business, and it addressed the new challenges I faced along the way, from comparing myself to other creatives, to dealing with failure, and helped me recontextualize what I actually “do” in the process. Two years later, selections from this series were published as the book Things Are What You Make of Them.

The summer of 2017 was an extremely tense time for me. I felt a kind of anxiety that I hadn’t felt before, and despite knowing plenty of techniques for managing my mental health, it still took my boyfriend saying “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?” to snap me into reality. I cried on our couch from the near-constant stress, fear, and anxiety. This was the first step towards moving forward.

I wrote this then, an exercise (like most of my work) in telling myself what I know I need to hear. The draft was abandoned, the book it’s not in was released, and the period of intense anxiety subsided. I married my boyfriend in a bookstore. I went on vacation. I shaved my head and my hair grew back. I made new art. It’s so easy to remember the answers when everything is okay, and so hard to see through the dark parts when life gets tough. I know I’ll need this reminder in the future and I hope it helps someone else, too. –Adam J. Kurtz

(bulleted list) HOW TO STAY CALM: Take a deep breath, go outside, review & reflect, take another deep breath, it is okay to cry, focus on the rest, write sh*t down, keep moving forward
take a deep breath – i’m sorry but this is literally just science. take a big, deep breath in slowly through your nose. hold it for a moment, then release through the mouth just as slowly. after some deep breaths to slow your mind & heart rate, continue to the next step.
go outside – being not-inside right now would do you some good. immediately, you are tethered to the rest of the world. your size in relation to the universe becomes clear. natural light will improve your mood. you don’t need to like it, you just need to get into it.
review & reflect – what is actually happening? take a step back. what is making you freak out right now? try to separate your emotion from the facts to get a clear sense of your own reality, actual reality & what your options are.
take another deep breath – if you’re like me (& god help you if you are) then thinking about ways to stay calm is just making you more stressed or anxious. so do that deep breathing thing again. do it any time you can hear your heart beat louder than your own thoughts.
it is okay to cry – crying is a perfectly reasonable response to sadness, joy or any other overwhelming emotion. give yourself a private moment. drink some water to hydrate & cry a little more. embracing your feelings & letting them out is strength, not weakness.
focus on the rest – unless you were born this morning, you’ve had a whole life of experiences & learning. while this moment may feel like the only thing that matters (& right now it might be) the truth is that there will be more. life is full of moments, chances & love. it will come.
write sh*t down – some of us journal already. whether that’s you or not, writing things down on paper immediately makes what you’re experiencing tangible & gives you a chance to organize your thoughts. it might also be the first step to seeking help from a loved one.
keep moving forward – “get over it” implies you could somehow forget. this may be as unhealthy as it is impossible. but you do need to keep going. you are more than 1 feeling. take the time you need, take what lessons you can & then take your next opportunity to move on.


THINGS ARE WHAT YOU MAKE OF THEM: Life Advice For Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz
Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives


Adam J. Kurtz Adam J. Kurtz is a Brooklyn-based artist and author of several books including the international-bestselling 1 Page at a Time journal. His dark (but optimistic) humor comes to life in an offbeat line of gifts and small trinkets. Follow @ADAMJK for more.


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  • This might be my favorite of the whole series. Adam, I love how you’re sometimes that friend that everyone wishes they had when they are struggling, who can make you laugh, get where you’re coming from, and give you advice that’s real and from the heart.

  • It seems to be easy to become overwhelmed with things happening in our lives. The is advice I need to apply on a regular basics.