How to Stay Calm Under Stress
Getting angry doesn’t solve anything. – Grace Kelly
All of us have issues, concerns or people who push our buttons. Especially people.
They create an emotional response that can send us over the edge. We might respond with anger, defensiveness, disgust or hurt.
These are normal human reactions, but when you're giving a presentation or doing a media interview – something where your reactions are on display – it's important to control your response.
That's why with my clients I'll spend time with this simple concept: Don't react when people try to push your buttons.
It's much easier said than done, of course.
Here's an example: You and your team are presenting a project plan internally, and one of your rivals brings up a negative that’s related to the project. The remark might be trivial or major, but just the guy’s attitude and tone can set you off.
Naturally, this could make you angry and defensive. Your emotional instinct would be to attack that person and his credibility. Or to try to defend yourself with a long explanation. Don't do it. If you do that, you lose.
Here are some tips on taking control of your emotional responses to situations:
Cover your buttons
When I’m coaching or training on this subject, I touch the middle of my chest and say "these are your buttons, let's cover them up." I would have you imagine before your presentation that you are putting on a flak jacket that has a shield over your chest, covering your emotional triggers – your buttons. This way they are covered, and no one can touch them.
Choose to respond calmly
We often say, “he makes me so mad!” as if a person has the power to control our emotional responses. The truth is, we can’t control what people do and say. But we can control our responses. You can choose to calm yourself and respond in a way that will produce positive results for you and others.
Pause and reflect
Take a mental break. Press “pause” in your mind and deliberately breathe. Your mother told you to count to 10 as a child; she was right on target. Even a brief break and several deep breaths can clear your mind and restore your equilibrium under pressure.
Don’t burn bridges
When we feel threatened, we’ll often react in a big way, with threats or attacks that undermine our relationships. You need to realize that burning bridges – killing our relationships – cuts off all possibility of future success. I’ve learned over years that people you think of as enemies sometimes turn into your greatest allies. Keep the bridge intact.
Think of gratitude
When you turn your focus to gratitude, you will find that your anger, jealousy or other negative emotion, slips away. That’s because if you are truly focused on gratitude, it’s impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Thankfully, we cannot hold these two feelings at the same time.
Assume the best
We make many assumptions in life, and lots of them turn out to be wrong. Based on our emotions we’ll take the smallest slight and jump to the wrong conclusion. Until you have blatant solid evidence that someone has wronged you, try assuming the best.
Understand your triggers
It’s worth taking the time to identify and understand your buttons. What are those triggers, those slights, that set you off?
I have more than one client who had a difficult childhood, too often feeling humiliated as kids. They understand that they tend to overreact when they think someone is disrespecting them. With awareness and practice, they’re learning to control their emotional responses.
Think of something funny
Depending on the situation, this is one of my favorite mental tricks to stay calm: I’ll deliberately think of something funny. If I become angry at a person for a hostile remark, I might picture the attacker as a squeaky little dog with a high-pitched bark. It just keeps yapping, “Yap! Yap! Yap!” Then I smile inside, take a deep breath and follow some of the other advice I’ve been sharing.
Take the high road
Take the high road and briefly respond in a way that minimizes the issue. Then move on. Dismiss it from your mind.
Button-pushing happens all the time in media interviews, where it is a reporter's job to make you uncomfortable enough that you give a response that will be different and interesting for readers or viewers.
So, it's critical that you don't over-respond to a comment. You can't control what people will say, but you can control your response.
Whether it’s a reporter, a presentation heckler or the office flame-thrower, use these techniques to help control your response.
Just stay calm. Be in the moment. Breathe. Then move on in your communication. By the way, this works well in your communications at home, as well. Give it a try!
What are your emotional triggers?
What sets you off?
How do you respond to perceived attacks or ridicule in public settings?