This one’s on my mind after a bunch of hours of airport travel yesterday, followed by a 45 minute wait for a rental car (ten kiosks, one person working), not to mention…well, you don’t want to hear about my irritations. You have your own.

Staying calm in trying times is a skill, and you can master it. Here are some tips.#1 is always BREATHE.

Yes, the capitals are intentional. Because this one is huge, and so easily forgotten.

In moments of stress, breathing often gets shallower, and shallower breathing sends a message to your body and your mind that it’s time to panic. It reinforces the idea that something is really, really wrong, and you’d better start mobilizing.

But so often, there’s actually nothing to be done. So mobilizing for nothing is really a waste of your body’s resources. And irritability is a waste of pretty much everything. Who benefits from your irritability? Not you, not the people around you.

For example, a guy in line at the rental car location keeps bitching, loudly, so that the one poor woman who works there (and all of us waiting in line with him) have to know that he is truly disgusted by the state of affairs. As you can imagine, all of us really appreciated thta, and it made our own moods waaaaaaay better.

But even if you’re just privately fuming, how’s that benefiting you?

You’re better off trying distraction. Think of your favorite song. If you’re not driving or otherwise occupied, find out all the gossip. Look at pretty pictures. Imagine all the good things that will come next once you’re out of that particular situation.

And recognize that unpleasant events always end. There was a before, and there will be an after. Keep your perspective. It’s just a moment in time, and you might as well make the moment a better one. Dwelling on your woe is rarely helpful.

Know that your struggles are not unique, and whatever they are, someone undoubtedly has it worse. This goes to keeping perspective: Realize that there are many ways in which you are far luckier than other people, regardless of momentary discomforts or annoyances.

It might sound paradoxical–practice gratitude in times of irritation? are you nuts?–but try it. You might be surprised.

If there is something you can do to improve your lot, then think strategically, and do it, either this time around or next time. Often life’s aggravations are predictable and repetitive. There are things you can do to prevent having the same experience the next time around.

Also, you’ll think more clearly if you stay calm, which means using some of the other tips I’ve mentioned. Life’ll give you plenty of time to practice!

***Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda (http://hollybrownmft.com/ ). She’s also the author of–what else?–psychological thrillers (http://hollybrownbooks.com/ ).