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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Keep Calm and Carry On: Potential Pitfalls

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 15th 2011


We happen to live in a culture that rewards having a high tolerance to stress. The more work we can juggle without going nuts the greater the reward.  There’s a phrase going around, I see it printed on bags, people’s shirts, and coffee mugs. It’ says “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This is a tricky phrase because it can be understood in many ways, one way supportive the other way a slippery slope to greater distress. Let me explain.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” can be a signal to drop down from the chaos in our minds and just keep moving forward. This can be a godsend in the face of anxiety, depression, or addiction as that is exactly what we want to do. Disconnect from the flurry of automatic negative thoughts and keep putting one foot in front of the other. We might see this as a way to break the emotional spiral that can get us in trouble.

On the flipside “Keep Calm and Carry On” may tell me to move on from or avoid the feelings that are here just to get through the situation. When we’re experiencing a difficult moment in life, the recipe for healing can be the exact opposite. We want to open up to the experience that’s here as within this difficult moment may lay some innate wisdom. In going inward we start to realize that everything is going to be okay and we can handle the situation. We need this experience to really understand that we are more powerful than we know.

For example, when someone has fear around a particular topic. Sometimes the greatest thing to do is not keep calm at all. In fact, it can be helpful in a therapeutic encounter as long as there is trust between the client and therapist to have the client really engage their fear. I may even have the client amp up their fear and tell them to try and really hold onto it. What they find when they try and do this over time is that the fear begins to dissipate. We didn’t move on in this scenario we stayed with the feeling and in that experience the person begins to realize they can trust themselves in the face of fear.

This is just food for thought. I think the phrase can be helpful, but also misinterpreted in a way that can make us miss the benefits and true chance for change when we have the experience of nonjudgmentally “being with” what is here.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.



Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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The meaning of this slogan... - - Sep 17th 2011

...Is both ironic and an expression of British identity. It originates from a WWII era poster intended to raise morale, but was little known until rediscovered in 2009 (see here for source). Originally this was meant to bring out the calm, polite stoicism highly valued in British culture.

Fast forward to today when hipsters, attracted to the enormous kitsch appeal of this story, took off with it. Clever marketers seized the opportunity to make money off of this fad and suddenly the slogan with the crown logo appeared on everything from bumper stickers to coffee mugs. Therefore the slogan should not be taken at face value. Instead, the fad is both an in-joke and gallows humor regarding the current world situation.

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