Dealing with Stress in The Moment

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

Last week, I shared with you about the Resilience Advantage Approach of Preparation, Navigation and Bounce Back and Forward and shared some ideas about how and why preparing for stress is so important.

Let’s take a look today at how we can successfully navigate our stress when it is actually happening

One of my clients told me his head was about to explode (not literally) when he received yet another “change order” from his manager which, it seemed to him, negated the action steps he took the week before. It wasn’t just that this was a one-off event, however, as his company was going through some major challenges, and change was an ever present event.

The Resilience Advantage approach to dealing with the perceived fast pace of stress when it is happening is to  actually try to slow down our perception of time. When we are under stress, time seems to move quickly leaving us feeling like we have to make decisions or take actions with inadequate information. If we can slow down time we can actually create more space to deal with the added pressure.

Here is the plan:

  1. Recognize your stress signs. Knowing how we react to stress will help us put our resilience into play. Common ways we experience stress might be a tightening in our shoulders or neck, for example.  We may experience our  stomach tightening and our heart rate increasing.  These are perfectly normal signs of stress (as our body releases hormones to address the issue) and recognizing how it affects us is a good first resilience step to slowing down time.
  2. Take a time out: Novak Djokovic, who won last weekend’s Wimbledon Championships has developed a bit of a reputation for using the “rest room” during critical breaks between sets.  When in a tight match, he uses that allowed time to head off the court to catch his breath, think about the match, and maybe even throw his opponent off his timing.  Taking a few minutes to collect our thoughts helps settle our nerves and gives us time to think about our next shot and like Djokovic, it will probably be a winner.
  3. Share the pain: In times of emergency, our thinking can be clouded. Asking a friend for their perspective naturally slows things down.  Having a “trusted” colleague to talk with, vent to, and problem solve with strengthens resilience. There is no need to do it ourselves. Others want to help, and all we need to do is accept it.
  4. Take charge: Once our brain catches up to our body, we can begin to build the plan. Whether it is making lists, soliciting help, or asking for clarification, approaching that piece of the puzzle in an organized and controlled manner projects a sense of calm…and even if you don’t feel that way, think of the words of the world-renowned psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, “pretend anything and master it.”

Once my client came off the ledge, he recognized that the urgency of everyday matters at his work would probably not be slowing down anytime soon. He decided to bring the matter up to his boss. We roleplayed the discussion and when he shared his thoughts with his manager, it turned out that she was feeling the same way herself. She expressed her appreciation for his honesty and forthrightness. She decided to use his initiative to bring the matter of work volume and intensity up with the whole team, which in the end helped everyone understand the situation more fully. As a result, everyone was able to do a bit more planning about how they could handle their work load more effectively and perhaps more importantly more gracefully

© Richard Citrin 2021

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