The power (non)move: 6 ways to center under stress

Casey Onder, PhD
3 min readDec 18, 2023
Photo by olena ivanova on Unsplash

Centering — to a state of calm objectivity — is a power (non)move for stress management and enhancing performance healthfully, peacefully and sustainably.

What happens when you’re not centered and power through: Thoughts and actions based on stress, dissatisfaction or addictive tendencies (even delusion) eventually take their toll.

Bottom line: Start from stillness and satisfaction. While it’s probably not enough to get what/where you want, centering becomes increasingly important the greater the stakes.

Centering is common and critical outside of knowledge work, leadership and entrepreneurship as well: For example for athletes and artists in “flow states.” You’ve experienced “centering” spontaneously, no doubt. There’s an experience of time slowing and being completely connected, with oneself and in relationship to other(s) or the activity.

7 ways to center under stress

1. Get your rational mind and emotions to talk and sync up.

Our prefrontal cortex and amygdala can pull us in different directions — this can be particularly true of high performers, analytical or “hyper rational” types. Stoicism is an option, and IMO forgoes the power of instincts and emotions, dimming our empathy and experience of life. Cognitive therapies, “mindfulness” and coaching can support clarity, alignment and internal data pointing in the same (and most helpful) direction.

2. Seek or build stillness in your environment.

Supportive, focused external structures promote productive movement. Think: Routines, habits, firm goals/metrics, consistent community. Functionally designed, semi-flexible structures support action that’s harmonious and directed versus harmful and/or (unproductively) chaotic… Though chaos can occasionally be a good thing…

3. Laugh it off.

Laughter brings lightness and opening if you’re caught in a negative loop (or spiral). It also requires compassion: The point is to re-center and put things in perspective, not to diminish or dismiss a real experience.

4. Apply a learning mindset if the stress is performance-related.

Perfectionists take note! What new knowledge can be applied going forward? Become an objective and curious scientist, or a jazz musician jamming.

5. Verbally process and “clear” it regularly — yourself or with a supportive neutral party.

Similar to #4, this means meaning making to arrive at a place of acceptance, learning and future orientation. Familiarize yourself with underlying beliefs that drive these experiences if frequent: Whereas acute stress is healthy and inevitable, chronic stress and overwhelm are often bad habits). A big caveat is that for some people, connecting with and allowing negative (and positive) emotions in the first place is most helpful. Centering and attunement are complementary.

6. Use somatic state shifting techniques like breath work, gentle movement and “dancing it out.”

What’s the minimum effective movement? For example box breathing, deep breathing, or “shaking off tension” versus running a 10k. Also exercise and move regularly as a prophylactic, clearly. (Just check your motives, watch for diminishing returns and don’t overdo it to the point where it gets self-abusive…)

Each of these techniques starts from acceptance and presence — not avoiding or rejecting the natural human experience of pain or discomfort, including uncertainty. Where “toxic positivity,” control issues and compensatory (over)confidence are at play, centering includes grounding/connecting with reality, perspective taking and seeing the bigger picture. IOW, not being a jerk, an imposition or Icarus crashing to the earth.

We do better and more good long-term when we’re centered to start.

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Casey Onder, PhD

Executive Coach | Psychologist | PhD. Follow me on LinkedIn or sign up for my newsletter @