"The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership." ~Jim Loehr
How you deal with the stress and infuriating situations that come along with any work environment will go a long way towards determining how successful you are in your career. It isn’t just that it looks horrible when you fly off the handle or run around in a stress induced frenzy (though neither of those scream out, “Put this person in a position to take on even more responsibility since they are handling what they currently have so well”). It’s that staying calm brings out our best efforts. Now some may say that the pressure of a deadline makes them more productive, and certainly it can focus you, but it can also result in you cutting corners and putting forth substandard work.
People find ways to calm themselves down in a number of ways, and you may have some personalized ways that you do it, but below are the ways that will usually work for any of us.
The next right choice – When things get stressful or go wrong, you want to learn from them, but you don’t want to dwell on them. You can’t get through a tough time without taking action. In this case, focus on the next thing that you need to do, and make sure that you do it to the best of your ability. What you want to stay away from is the endless circle of “what-ifs”. Staying in tune with what you can do right is key.
Find an outlet for frustration – In this case you want it to be as positive of an outlet as possible. One of the reasons that exercise is so important to everyone is that it has a natural calming influence over our body (as well as all of the other health benefits). Maybe you write an e-mail that you don’t send to vent. Perhaps you speak to a friend or loved one about the situation. Since we know that there will be moments of frustration that you need to calm down from, you need to understand what you have at your disposal to blow off steam before it boils over.
Find your triggers – We all have certain things that frustrate us more than other. There are also lots of times where you can see the crisis or emergency on the horizon. If you know what triggers stress and frustration ahead of time, you can take measures to address it and be ready for it so that it doesn’t throw you off as much. Get calm BEFORE the storm.
They say “No” – If you want to remain calm, you need to get good at prioritizing. Saying “yes” all of the time is easy, but quickly gets overwhelming. It also leaves you susceptible to working on, and being stressed by, little things which affect your output on larger things. When someone comes to you to put something on your plate, simply state what you are working on now, and maybe next, and let them know a timeframe. Oftentimes they will take it to someone else who can do it quicker, or they will at least understand your timeframes which reduces the pressure.
Don’t fall for the “panic trap” – Just because someone else is panicky and stressed doesn’t mean you need to be. Mirroring the mood of others is a natural way for you to look to communicate with them better, but can be counterproductive to your work depending on what mood it is. Maintain your calm in the face of panic and you will not only produce better work, but just might be able to calm down the other person who is apt to mirror your mood as well.
Life outside of work – When work is your whole world you put more pressure on it to go perfectly. This creates a lot of stress. It also eliminates one of the best “pressure valves” for stress which is fun outside of work. When you find yourself more stressed, it is all the more important for you to cultivate hobbies and relationships outside of work.
Don’t get negative – Negativity breeds more negativity, and often begets more stress. Find something positive to latch onto, whether a past success, the simple “win” you can accomplish right away, or anything else to break the cycle. Recognize your pattern and break it.
Don’t put yourself in a box – When we are stressed out we will often begin associating our surrounding with that stress. Taking a break and changing the environment, even briefly, can reset this association so that you can get back to work in a more productive way.
Mind the Body – Calm and stress have a physical component to them. One of the best ways to stay calm is to preventatively take care of your body to make it more resistant to stress in the first place. Getting exercise and the right amount of sleep can keep stress at bay. And when you need to regain your calm, skip that cup of coffee. Coffee is a natural stimulant that elevates our levels of excitability. Switch to tea, or a soda, when you’re in need of calm. The lower caffeine content will help.
Use the support system – People remain calm when they recognize the huge amount of resources that they have backing them up. Talk through your difficulties with a trusted colleague or friend. They may have the answers to your difficulties. When things get really crazy you can always delegate to your team to get something off your plate and focus you on higher priority items.
When you’re feeling stressed, there’s no reason to stay that way. Find out which f the above techniques work for you and thrive!