I coach around 30 to 40 professionals across many industries. They range from technology, manufacturing, finance and government. I’ve noticed a real uptick in the amount of folks suffering from stress and overwhelm. I believe it’s partially due to so many businesses are short staffed and many are still trying to negotiate the boundary between home and work; and post pandemic, what’s safe and not safe. I know for myself, the struggle to remember where masks are mandatory, where it’s prudent and wanting to just go back to pre-2020 is real There is an underlying stress for many folks that a crowd of people still equals danger. Their body is sending stress signals that other humans are germ carrying vessels and to go wash your hands again. It’s hard to rewire our brains into relaxing and resetting into calm. Several of my high performing clients are petrified to return to the office whether the fear is unfounded or not. It’s difficult to recapture calm once the cortisol is released in your body but there are some tricks that can be helpful.
Here are 5 tricks to reset to calm:
Take 20 Minutes. When you perceive a threat whether real or imagined (I can’t tell you how many times I thought a root was a snake on a hiking trail), your breathing is shallow, your heart rate goes up, adrenaline and cortisol are released. As Donna Marino wrote for Fast Company, “Psychologists call this process the “fight, flight, or freeze response,” referring to the body’s instinctual reaction to this event. Once this process is triggered, it can take up to 20 minutes for the parasympathetic system to intervene and return you to a state of calm.” So, let’s say you were just embarrassed on a conference call or the offer on your house fell through or you are angry at your partner. Take a 20-minute break. Once you are triggered it’s very difficult to speak and think coherently. If there is any way to take a break to later in the day or, better yet the next day, get some space and time to reset.
Best, Worst, Most Likely. Perhaps you are nervous to confront your direct report on a poor-quality project or to present to the executive team or to get through this really challenging class. Think through or write down or chat with a close friend or coach.
Ask yourself the following three questions:
- What is the best outcome? My employee turns around and gets promoted, I am flawless on the presentation and they tap me for a promotion I get an A+ in the course.
- What is the worst outcome? My employee quits and goes on Glass Door to trash me, the executive team hate the presentation and I’m demoted, and I flunk the course and have to take it over. I saw a fun example of this on “This Is Us” as a married couple tries to compete for worst case scenario usually involving a parenting decision.
- What is the most likely outcome? My employee makes improvements and we have a better working relationship, my presentation goes well with only a few hiccups, and I get a B in the class which slightly drops my GPA.
This helps keep me from dwelling on what could go wrong to imaging the best; realistically facing the worst and then relaxing into what is most likely.
Reframing. The words that I use to describe a situation can influence the way my body perceives it. If I say, “I’m nervous about this new client as opposed to I’m excited about this new client.” My brain is deciding I’m on high alert in the first part and curious in the second part. For many weeks leading up to a cross country trip last year I referred to putting my beloved dog Baci into prison for 4 weeks. Imagine how that made me feel. When I told a colleague about it he said, “That boarding place? That’s a resort”. When I reframed it into a resort, I was less stressed out and more excited (not nervous) to drop Baci off. My good friend Mark sold his family home and while it was daunting, he changed his language to be “I’m excited to clear the garage or cull through my parent’s books.” The language we use in our head and how we frame it is very important to resetting our mind.
Role play. It’s extremely helpful to role play or practice a difficult discussion or presentation. I can play in my mind what I want to say but saying it out loud either by myself to a mirror or to a trusted colleague or to a coach can be super helpful in dampening down one’s nerves. It’s helpful to work the kinks out. I do this a lot with my clients and I can give helpful feedback like, “You said “um” six times and you rambled a bit in the last sentence Is there a way to tighten it up?” I personally like to have bullets if I’m going to speak to a crowd or facilitate to a group but you may want flash cards or talking points. Figure out what makes you most comfortable and practice it to reset to calm.
Comfortable. If I know I’m going into something that might make me anxious like a performance discussion with an employee or speaking to a new group or taking an exam, I try to make sure I am as comfortable as possible while matching the situation (I’m not wearing pajamas to a speaking engagement). As Francis Kuehnle wrote for Healthline, “Aromatherapy is thought to help activate certain receptors in your brain, potentially easing anxiety.” Wear a scent that makes you feel good. If a shirt or blouse has a tag that rubs against your skin or you are constantly tugging on a top, wear something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Being comfortable will help you reset into calm.
These are more short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety. There are many regimes that can help with your ability to cope like yoga, meditation, walking outside, better sleep and reducing alcohol and caffeine. I’ve made many lifestyle changes over the last ten years and I have to say I’m much less anxious and tend to roll with the punches more easily. My suggestion is to try out one of these and see if it has an impact. How do you reduce stress?