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Retired Navy SEAL uses a simple strategy to remain calm during high-stress situations

Former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf
Source: Andy Stumpf

The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. And as a result, many people are experiencing heightened levels of stress.

"People aren't often pushed to that place where they truly are scared or worried or concerned," former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf tells CNBC Make It. "They don't have a practiced coping mechanism for the stress." As a result, many people are making emotional, rather than practical, decisions right now, like pulling out of the stock market or panic-buying toilet paper.

After his 17-year SEAL career, Stumpf has developed a strategy to deal with stress and combat emotional decision-making. 

It starts with recognizing the situation. Look for signs that you're anxious or upset, he says. For Stumpf, "one of the main things that I'll feel is my face starts getting really hot. Or I'll notice that I'm gripping the steering wheel too hard."

Then, take a deep breath and try to look at the situation as objectively as possible. "Understand what it is that you're worried about and whether or not you have control over that," says Stumpf.

If it's something you have no control over, like what's going on in the stock market or what's happening in the news, try not to waste time and energy worrying about something you can't change. Instead, focus on what you actually can control, which are your thoughts, behaviors, habits and routine.

That's easier said than done, but there are strategies to quell anxieties during these times and shift your focus away from situations that are out of your hands. Try dialing down your exposure to the news, sticking to a routine and practicing mindfulness. 

"My biggest advice is for people to just take a breath," says Stumpf.

Keeping a level head isn't easy, he adds: "By no stretch am I perfect at any of this stuff, but I've tried to learn from my mistakes over the years. It all starts with being able to take a breath. Take a moment to be objective, as opposed to becoming enthralled or wrapped up in your emotions and allowing them to take over."

Don't miss: Retired Navy SEAL: Losing control of your emotions during a stressful situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can be 'dangerous'

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