Don’t worry about staying calm … it’s not all that it is made out to be.
Here’s the scenario: something goes south at work and your anxiety heads north. Common advice suggests to “stay calm … take a breath … control your reactions”. All great advice. BUT too many of us strive to maintain that calm façade while the underlying river of anxiety goes unaddressed.
Here’s my take.
At the first sign of your body reacting very negatively to something, take that deep breath and calm yourself. Then, very purposefully, take stock of what’s going on for you. What is the anxiety you are feeling? What is the fear that may be driving your reaction? What are you ultimately trying to achieve that is at risk? In the answers, will emerge what is most important and what options you best explore.
Calm yourself to the point that you don’t immediately react and regret something you say. Then, very purposefully, you can choose your reaction rather than having it chosen for you.
Once you have more calmly reviewed possible options and gained a deeper understanding, it’s time to harness your passion and translate it into your path forward. Here, you can draw upon your emotions to express your passion, frustration, drive, energy, and more. These are all good things to let people know what is important to you, and to show you are human too.
An improv teacher once taught me that if something goes off the rails, we must acknowledge it. Otherwise, the audience will feel awkward, like we are the only ones disconnected from reality. “Step into the full reality” they said.
Overly calm leaders, who aren’t stepping into the full reality, can alienate themselves from those around them. On the other hand, reactive leaders who are the first to fire out their solution, or those who immediately look to blame, aren’t the ones fostering strong trust-based teams.
As with most of life, the sweet spot is not at the extremes, rather in the middle. Practice mindfulness and avoid destructive reactions, while at the same time leaning into your emotion reactions. Your anxieties are telling you something. Listen to them while maintaining perspective, and then use that knowledge to chart your course.
Remember that practicing mindfulness AND embracing your emotional reactions allows you to learn from your anxieties, authentically engage others as a leader, and navigate future challenges with wisdom.
For more on this topic:
- Read Dr. Bradberry’s article “How to stay calm under pressure”,
- Read about mastering the skill of leadership mindfulness and choosing your reactions to stress, in Dr. Card’s book Leadership Equanimity,
- Listen to the Hidden Brain’s podcast “A Better Way to Worry” to hear psychologist Tracy Dennis-Tiwary reveal how anxiety can be our friend.