07/19/2013 01:11 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

How to Overcome Freakouts

I freaked out the other day. A few times. It was all due to a rapid-fire chain of events that went something like this:

  • First, I answered one last email before leaving the office and made myself late for a meeting with a client.
  • Then, I made a pit stop on the way home and drowned my stress in a large highly-caloric coffee-smoothie drink of love.
  • After that, I snapped at hubby when he called to tell me he was running late coming home.

These moments sent my mind spinning... to a future of misery, poverty and loneliness. I couldn't shake the dread, the regret and the feeling that things would never be the same. Why Because despite the true facts, here's what I told myself:

  • My trust with my client has been irreparably broken...
  • My body just put on five pounds and won't be able to get it off...
  • My husband is going to come home late every day just to keep away from me...

In the end, of course, none of this happened. The moments all passed. I made them right. Everything was fine.

We do this to ourselves all the time. We make one misstep and we become sure, no convinced, that we've completely blown it. We believe a single action has taken away all of our hard work, good deeds and carefully-built relationships.

It happens because in the moment that misstep feels huge. When we are living it and focused on it we truly believe, it's the center of our world -- and the world of everyone around us.

The truth? The thing that great leaders and happy people seem to know already?

Life as we know it is one big stretch of time, filled to the brim with activities, successes and yes, lots and lots of missteps. And they almost always pass without long-term consequences.

To be fair, life also contains a few truly momentous occasions... the rare ones that do change everything. They include things like finding and ending major relationships, having kids, getting and leaving jobs and the death of loved ones. There are also brief moments in time that have truly long-term consequences, like a serious accident or a natural disaster.

The other thousands of moments? They're all just a teensy part of our ever-continuing sometimes-messy lives. They are ephemeral blips on the screen of life. And they pass.

And yet... these other moments take on lives of their own:

  • We don't land the big job interview and we freak out, believing we'll be unemployed... forever.
  • We pay a credit card late and we freak out, believing our credit will be ruined... forever.
  • We have a fight with a loved one and we freak out, believing our relationship is changed... forever.

These long-term consequences we become so convinced of? They almost never happen.

What truly successful happy people seem to know is that we are not defined by our many, many short-lived moments. Instead, we are defined by our patterned choices and actions over the long haul.

So what do they do about their missteps? They make them right, learn from them, and move on. And they don't freak out.

Think about it.

When was the last time you made a mistake at work, had an argument with a loved one, made a big purchase and felt like nothing would ever be the same? Did you figure it out? Did it pass? How quickly?

Now truly think about those life-changing moments you've REALLY had, when nothing REALLY was the same again. How many have there been? Ten? Maybe fewer?

So get some perspective. Know that this moment, too, shall pass. And stop freaking out.

I'm not saying it's easy. Especially when you've gotten especially good at being a freaker-outer, like me. I struggle with this all the time. But I also work on it.

In fact, I had to remember it just this morning, when I literally handed over my last dollar at lunch and had the sinking sensation that I was one step away from living on the street. As my heart picked up the pace I remembered there was an ATM around the corner, and my account did indeed have money in it.

That's when the moment passed. That's when I stopped freaking out.

This week: Stop freaking out. Or at least save your freakouts for those true transformative milestone moments in life.

Learn to recognize just how few there are. Then trust this moment will pass and move forward, knowing the next one will be better. Now go do good and do it well.

For more by Deirdre Maloney, click here.

For more on happiness, click here.