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Staying Calm in Stressful Situations

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Have you ever noticed that people often get stressed out over things that either A) don’t matter or B) they have no control over? As an objective observer, it can be pretty funny to watch as someone taps their foot, looks at their watch for the hundredth time, and starts to fume when the train is late.


I see this unnecessary worry a lot in the workplace, too. Our numbers are low! We’re going to miss our deadline! Someone made a mistake—let’s all panic and look for scapegoats in case someone tries to suggest that I had something to do with this shortcoming! We’re all going to be fired!

It just doesn’t make sense. Getting upset that your ride isn’t here yet doesn’t make it arrive any faster—you’re going to be late even if your face gets all red and your blood pressure rises. And panicking about work stress only makes you less capable of coming up with creative solutions to fix problems. (Though, I admit it’s pretty hard to see it when you’re the one in panic mode!)

I’d like to propose a different way of dealing with unpleasant and stressful situations. Calmness. In yoga class, when you’re in a difficult pose you can choose to focus on how uncomfortable you are during the last five breaths of a hold, or you breathe more deeply and realize that in just a few moments you’ll move on to something else. It’s all going to be OK.

What if you could recognize that the stress reaction in life is a choice (and a bad one at that), and you have the power to make a different choice instead? It’s empowering!

In the work situation, sometimes it only takes one voice of reason to shift the whole group mentality from one of panic into a problem-solving mode. Isn’t this what great leaders do so fabulously? At the worst, let’s say a grumpy co-worker who is particularly high strung poo-poos your ideas and notes the lack of urgency (that’s another word for stress) in your tone. You can’t win them all, but if you take a step back, can you see how silly your colleague looks? Sure, you should treat him with even more kindness and compassion because he’s having a rough day (and we’ve all been there). But maybe it’s just a little bit gratifying to know that the most obnoxious of co-workers might get annoyed by your mellow vibe, but deep down they know you’re right and they wish they knew your secret to staying so calm? This is my goal.

When I notice my stress reaction kicking in unnecessarily I take a deep breath and ask myself a few questions:

Will freaking out help this situation? The answer is almost always no.

What’s the worst possible outcome of this? Unless it threatens someone’s life directly or is a matter of national security it’s probably nothing that you can’t overcome. (And who wants to have a freaked out doctor or president? Not me!)

Remember the last time you freaked out over a similar situation?Does it seem like a big deal now? There are many times I can’t even remember the last freak out because it was so insignificant.

When all else fails, I try to take myself out of the situation and see the humor in it. Seriously? You’re getting all red-faced and flustered because your doctor is a few minutes late for your appointment?

Are you really so important that the world will stop turning if you are a few minutes late to you next appointment? No. No you are not.