Throughout a typical day, we all encounter snippets of time when someone slams down on our panic button.  Immediately we need to decide how to react.  If you are like me and interested in the biological and physiological response process, check out this really cool article from Harvard: 

For me, it’s as if the cat is playing with the remote.  At any given moment the channel can change.  When you are so focused on something and someone abruptly changes your focus, it can really throw you off your game.  How you react to this sudden stressor will be very telling to those around you, and can be a signal to yourself of deeper issues.  Fortunately or unfortunately, your initial reaction to stressful situations will show people the type of leader you exemplify. 

Years ago I had the privilege of working for a major entertainment company.  One of the key indicators of potential success and promotion to a leadership position was your ability to cope during a sudden moment of crisis.  For example, you never wanted your face to indicate to the guests that there was an issue.  I have some incredible stories of sample moments but, out of respect for the people involved, I will keep those as memories.  Suffice it to say, they were situations that would test everyone, and only the strongest rose to the top.  The ability to assess quickly and then react appropriately was paramount to our role.  It is a skill I strive to maintain today. I don’t always succeed, and sometimes I tend to react before I think.  We all do that from time to time, but it is important that we find the balance and elect appropriate times to jump or pause.  

When these panic buttons are engaged, and they will be, it is imperative that we are prepared to initiate an appropriate response. The most successful approach to mastering your best response is to:

  • Breath: Take a moment, take a deep breath.  If you read the Harvard article, you’ll understand the physiological importance of this step.  It allows us to maintain control before the auto-systems in our bodies kick in.
  • Identify: Where is the urgency coming from?  Name the source and learn quickly which items NEED a response, and who is just trying to get your attention and throw you off your game.  Sometimes people are so stressed themselves that their only response is to engage their natural coping mechanism: to invite others into their misery, sometimes by force.  Are you a willing or unwilling victim to this pull?  Will you use it to your benefit, or let it destroy you?  Once you have composed the chaos, look for the potential benefits of the situation.  Does it present a moment to pause, a learning or teaching opportunity, or a chance to redirect your current goals.
  • Reframe: Situations and experiences can become intensified when we, ourselves, are feeling anxious or stressed, and then somebody comes along and piles on top.  When a paramedic approaches an accident scene, they may be walking swiftly or at a normal pace. They have learned to quickly assess the situation and ask themselves, “Is this something to which I need to run, or can I walk instead?  If I run, will that add to the stress or take away from it?”  The paramedic, in this situation, is considering the impact to both themselves, but also to the injured party. They have learned to quickly figure out which actions are necessary and which ones would just add more fuel to the fire. Take the opportunity to remind yourself of your strengths, your gifts, your skills, and your graces.
  • Examine: When appropriate, take a moment to perform a mental examination of how your body is reacting.  Take stock of whether your shoulders are thrust upwards, your neck or jaw are tense, or your knees are locked.  I call this a quick ‘systems check’ and it is something that singers and performers do all the time. As you take the stage, take a moment to breath in.  Then, starting with your feet, perform a mental check of how your body is reacting.  Quickly and intentionally make the necessary adjustments.
  • Mindset Adjustment: Get in to the habit of thinking like an optimist.  If you embrace a sense of panic – a mindset that everything is a crisis – you will inevitably make the situation worse.  Over time, your body will pay the price of a panicked physiological response.  Recognize the difference between panic and urgency.  You can respond swiftly without creating chaos.  When you adjust your mindset to one of optimism, you will start to see the positive in every situation. THAT is where your power, your very leadership-nature, resides! 

Our reactions to moments of stress and anxiety can speak volumes to those around us and if we fail to react appropriately, it can send the wrong message.  You may signal that you cannot handle stress. It may indicate that perhaps you aren’t cut out for leadership and that promotion will slip away.

Equip yourself.  Take time to evaluate how you currently respond to stress and then begin the journey to preparedness and healthy living.