“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” – James Allen
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. Research shows that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. Research also shows the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health. The thing about stress is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our system is designed in such a way that it will not take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state. Performance will be effective under moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.
Hence, it is important to keep stress under control. Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your performance. Fortunately, though, unless you are being chased by a tiger, most of your stress is subjective and can be controlled. There are a few tricks to coping with stress – strategies employed by successful people. Or looking at it another way – people who manage and control their stress levels to enhance their productivity and performance are more successful.
When one begins to talk about them, some of these strategies seem obvious. The real challenge, therefore, lies in recognizing when you need to use them.
Appreciation – What You Have
Take time to contemplate what you’re grateful for. Not because it is right. This improves your mood and it reduces the stress producing hormones. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and you will experience improvement in your mood, your energy, and your physical well-being.
Avoiding – What If ?
“What if ?” statements create suspicion. They cast aspersions on your confidence levels. And they fuel stress and anxiety. Of course, things will go in different directions. Things can always go wrong. But more the time spent worrying about possibilities, means the lesser you have to focus on taking the actions that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want – or need – to go.
Generating – Positive Thoughts
The biggest cliché. Easier said than done. Positive thoughts help. We know it. The idea is to make your brain generate positive thoughts. Give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will stabilize your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In such moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or you can look forward to an exciting event. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.
Detaching – Refresh Your Mind
Taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. To make yourself available 24/7 – to your work – only exposes your to a constant barrage of stress inducements. Forcing yourself offline – simply turning off your phone – can give your body a break from continuous stress. Even an email break can help control stress levels. We know that technology is extremely intrusive. There is constant communication and the expectation that you should be available all the time. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. Detaching yourself from work-related communication is a must. When and how depends on you. Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You will be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your schedule. In fact, not worrying about any negative repercussions this could have is the first step to controlling stress.
Reducing – Intake Of Stimulants
This is not a laughing matter. Coffee breaks can be stimulating. More because the caffeine actually releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. This response avoids rational thinking. Of course, it’s great if you are being chased by a tiger, but not so good when all you need to do is calm down and respond to a not-so-nice email. The caffeine puts your brain and body into a hyper-active state and the stress that is created takes a toll on your system.
Sleeping – And Sleeping Well
One cannot say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which incidentally, causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own. Taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.
Erasing – Negative Self-Talk
Most of our negative thoughts are just that – thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, call on your inner voice to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating them. Using words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc., cannot be true. Still, should you feel your statements look like facts, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and seek a second opinion. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive outlook.
Redefining – Your Perspective
Stress and anxiety are fueled by our perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to redefine the situation. To correct this unproductive thought pattern, list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with some simple things – definitely not everything – and the scope of your stress will look far more manageable.
Breathing – Practice It
By far the easiest way to deal with stress – and something you have to do anyway – breathing. The practice of being with your breath will induce your brain to focus solely on the task at hand. (This is also called Meditation and there are many simple techniques to practice – dealt with more extensively – elsewhere in this blog). When you’re feeling stressed, focus on your breathing. You will notice an abnormality. A heaviness, an increased pace. So, put aside all distractions, sit in your chair, close your eyes and just breathe. The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breath – to prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but it is the one thing with guaranteed results.
Developing – A Support System
Attempting to tackle everything by yourself may be tempting, but could be quite disastrous. To be really productive, you need to understand your weaknesses and seek help when you need it. This means you should have a support system. Identify friends, colleagues, any individuals in your life whom you can trust. Seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress. At the same time, the replies in this conversation will provide the new perspective you need. This is because doing the same thing and looking at the problem from the same angle causes ‘operational blindness’. Other people can see solutions that you can’t because they are not emotionally involved with the problem.