You wake up with the good intention of staying calm and not getting wound up. But before you know where you are, you feel like a tightly coiled spring that’s about to unravel at high speed.
You leave in good time for your meeting in town, but hit a huge traffic jam. As you try and make your way round the back streets, you find the whole place is grid-locked. You call your boss to explain you’ll be late, but he’s not interested you left an hour earlier than usual.
Angry and Upset
All hot and bothered, you eventually join the meeting, only to find your colleagues have committed you to another deadline. There are veiled threats of do it, or else. You explain that what’s needed can’t be done in the time available, and why, but nobody will listen. Then the meeting finishes without a clear way forward.
Exasperated, you walk back to your office, sit down and open up your Inbox to find 57 new emails. Angry and upset doesn’t begin to describe how you’re feeling and it’s only 10am.
Change the Way You Respond
In the heat of the moment, when you’re feeling stressed out, one of the best ways to restore your calm is to take a few long….slow….deep breaths. And as you do, consciously focus on your breathing. This simple technique induces a relaxed feeling that lowers your heart rate, reduces muscle tension and relieves anxiety. It may not solve your problems, but it will reduce your stress level. And then you’re more able to tackle the difficulties you’re facing.
Another key aspect of handling stress is to be absolutely clear about what you can – and cannot – control. Unexpected traffic jams and the unreasonable behavior of other people are actually things beyond your control. You can’t do anything about the thousands of cars on the road in the early morning. And you can’t change other people’s behavior, only they can do that. But what you can control is how you respond to these situations. Getting uptight only ratchets up your stress level.
Just think about it.
You left an hour earlier than usual. There was no way you could have known there’d already been an accident that caused a major hold-up. You phoned your boss, which is all you could do in the circumstances.
So, next time, instead of getting agitated, put on some calm music. Whatever your preferred genre, select a piece of music with a slow tempo. This has the effect of slowing your heart rate and relaxing your muscles. And as your body relaxes, you’ll find it easier to cope with what’s going on around you.
Be Quietly Assertive
Without doubt, one of the greatest causes of stress in everyday life is the unreasonable behavior of other people. So, when faced with thoughtless demands, don’t be tempted blame, criticize or rant and rave, no matter how justified you feel this is. And don’t be tempted to retreat to a safe place and let your perceived injustices fester. Instead, start to nurture a quietly confident, assertive way of responding.
There are two techniques that are particularly helpful when dealing with people in positions of authority, who are making unreasonable demands. If you’re asked to add something to your ‘to do’ list and complete it an unrealistic time frame, simply ask what would you like me not to do in order to complete this new task? This throws the onus back on to your boss and obliges him – or her – to prioritize how you should allocate your time.
Another useful technique when someone won’t take no for an answer is to quietly and confidently keep re-iterating what you have already said. For example, I can’t take on any extra work right now because…. But the point is I can’t take on… As I was saying, I can’t take on… I guess I’m not making myself clear, I can’t take on… By standing your ground in a non-aggressive way, you make it clear that you really can’t take on any extra work, and the onus is back on your boss to prioritize how your limited time should be spent.
Restore Your Calm
And finally, avoid the temptation of saying if only I could turn the clock back. You already know that’s not possible, and in stating it, you’re reducing your ability to cope with the situation. You’re effectively saying there’s nothing I can do to improve the situation. But keep in mind, there’s always something you can do to improve things and restore your calm.