How many times in your life did you say or hear somebody tell you to “calm down”? We tend to say it to our children quite often, but did you ever try it yourself? When you are really stressed, it’s truly hard to calm down quickly—especially if you don’t have the skills you need to do so.
I used to study yoga, and my teacher told me that it takes three months of continuous work to really calm down in stressful situations. I must admit that for various reasons, I have never considered investing that much time into getting rid of stress. Whenever I face a stressful situation, I am just trying to manage it a little bit better than last time.
Thankfully, we are lucky to be part of a company that supports us in our wellbeing through education. Recently, our Scrum team participated in a workshop called Stress Management.
We learned that when talking about stress, we tend to think about the bad situations in our lives and the discomfort they cause, whether it is a job interview, the first day in a new job or having to present at an important meeting. All these things have a common denominator—danger and fear: fear of the unknown, of a failed job interview or of the supervisor’s reaction. When people find themselves in such situations, they usually change their operating mode to “fight or flight” and our body begins to secrete a mix of hormones (mostly adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine) as it prepares for a potential attack or defense.
While we live in a society where there are no dangerous animals out there to attack us—the biological reason that we have this reaction—the fight or flight reaction still happens. In our modern world, we have exchanged an attacking tiger with deadlines, exhausting workloads and conflicts (at work or in our personal lives). The good news is that stress control is a skill that can be learned and improved.
The first step is to reflect on what is really going on when we are stressed out. To find out, we can ask ourselves a few questions, like:
- What is causing my stress?
- How do I feel physically and emotionally?
- How do I act in response?
- What can I do to make myself feel better?
Once you pinpoint the exact cause of the stress, the next step is to evaluate the possible strategies you have and choose the one that fits the situation best. Below are some strategies that can help us avoid, better deal with or resolve stressful situations based on whether we can influence the situation or not.
Your emotional reaction aside, sometimes you just can’t influence or alter the situation. It exists, it’s real and you have to deal with it. If you can influence the situation, you can choose from the following strategies:
- Learn how to say NO
- Avoid people who stress you out
- Take control of your environment, if you feel comfortable there and can help you to feel less stressed
- Avoid topics that trigger your stress
- Reduce your to-do list
- Express your feelings instead of bottling them up
- Be willing to compromise
- Be more assertive
- Manage your time better
If you can’t influence the situation, you can choose from the following strategies:
- Reframe problems
- Look at the big picture
- Adjust your standards
- Focus on the positive
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable
- Look for the upside, such as “what does not kill you makes you stronger”
- Share your feelings
- Learn to forgive
- Take a deep breath. Many things can get better just by pausing to take a deep breath.
- If the situation allows it, try to defer action and take a 5-minute break.
- Try to break the problem down into smaller parts. Managing those smaller parts is usually less stressful than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.
When faced with a stressful situation, we hope that trying some of the above-mentioned strategies can help. While “no stress is the best stress,” it is not really possible to avoid stress all the time. In reality, avoiding stress completely could be more stressful than trying to successfully manage it.
Whatever approach you try, good luck with finding the one that suits you best and remember, if nothing else works, just breathe.
And last but not least, I would like to thank Patrik Mrázik for his considerable contributions to this article.