Home » How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed by Daniel Levitin (Transcript)

How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed by Daniel Levitin (Transcript)

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Daniel Levitin

Transcript of How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin at TED Talks…

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed by Daniel Levitin @ TED Talks


A few years ago, I broke into my own house. I had just driven home, it was around midnight in the dead of Montreal winter, I had been visiting my friend, Jeff, across town, and the thermometer on the front porch read minus 40 degrees — and don’t bother asking if that’s Celsius or Fahrenheit, minus 40 is where the two scales meet — it was very cold.

And as I stood on the front porch fumbling in my pockets, I found I didn’t have my keys. In fact, I could see them through the window, lying on the dining room table where I had left them. So I quickly ran around and tried all the other doors and windows, and they were locked tight. I thought about calling a locksmith — at least I had my cellphone, but at midnight, it could take a while for a locksmith to show up, and it was cold. I couldn’t go back to my friend Jeff’s house for the night because I had an early flight to Europe the next morning, and I needed to get my passport and my suitcase.

So, desperate and freezing cold, I found a large rock and I broke through the basement window, cleared out the shards of glass, I crawled through, I found a piece of cardboard and taped it up over the opening, figuring that in the morning, on the way to the airport, I could call my contractor and ask him to fix it. This was going to be expensive, but probably no more expensive than a middle-of-the-night locksmith, so I figured, under the circumstances, I was coming out even.

Now, I’m a neuroscientist by training and I know a little bit about how the brain performs under stress. It releases cortisol that raises your heart rate, it modulates adrenaline levels and it clouds your thinking.

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So the next morning, when I woke up on too little sleep, worrying about the hole in the window, and a mental note that I had to call my contractor, and the freezing temperatures, and the meetings I had upcoming in Europe, and with all the cortisol in my brain, my thinking was cloudy, but I didn’t know it was cloudy because my thinking was cloudy.

And it wasn’t until I got to the airport check-in counter, that I realized I didn’t have my passport. So I raced home in the snow and ice, 40 minutes, got my passport, raced back to the airport, I made it just in time, but they had given away my seat to someone else, so I got stuck in the back of the plane, next to the bathrooms, in a seat that wouldn’t recline, on an eight-hour flight. Well, I had a lot of time to think during those eight hours and no sleep.

And I started wondering, are there things that I can do, systems that I can put into place, that will prevent bad things from happening? Or at least if bad things happen, will minimize the likelihood of it being a total catastrophe. So I started thinking about that, but my thoughts didn’t crystallize until about a month later.

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