Living In Stressful Times
Most of us were already anxious about the state of our world when news of the corona-virus suddenly upped the ante—and the resulting panic has impacted everything from the stock market to the price of sanitizer. This increased anxiety seeps into our workplace, our homes, and our schools and becomes a crisis of its own. It is normal to be nervous when we hear bad news, but people have to be sensible in order to manage stressful times successfully. So, how do we find the right balance between caution and overreacting that will enable us to get through this?
The Balancing Act
We have an obligation to act responsibly when it comes to anything that threatens our physical, economic, and psychological well-being. A global outbreak of any disease should be taken seriously, and precautions around the transfer of germs is always a good idea—regardless of the severity of a disease or the likelihood of transmitting it. The danger in these situations is going overboard—and that may be a difficult line to draw. I have a brother who tends to be very low on the “worry scale” and other acquaintances on the high end, but each of us is wired differently. The goal is finding a middle ground where we avoid being so laid back that we become careless or get so worked up that we panic.
Panic Debilitates Outcomes
The most common response during stressful times is nervousness, which can become debilitating because of what it does to us physiologically. Once the fight-or-flight chemical gets released, it activates the limbic brain, where everything is heightened because we feel threatened. Our worries become exaggerated and our thoughts become less rational, which creates a state of panic that will lead to bad outcomes for any business, society, or family. Customers might be edgier, co-workers more distracted, and people might avoid attending meetings, going to school, traveling, or going to restaurants. If fears go unchecked, this may have long-term economic consequences. How do we manage this?
Calm Facilitates Success
The only way to combat anxiety is to “force calm” on the stress that surrounds us—for our own sake, our loved ones, our teams, and society at large. More than ever, we need mature leaders who can stifle the flow of cortisol in themselves and others by utilizing the more developed part of our brains called the frontal lobe. This is where we regulate our responses instead of simply reacting, and it enables us to make smart decisions with regard to matters that concern us. Make no mistake: it takes a lot of work to strengthen the pathways from our emotional to our thinking brain; but here are some tips from our training on Developing Resilience. When you or the people around you start stressing:
- Stop the downward spiral by forcing calm. Catch your breath (literally) and try repeating phrases like “stay calm,” “keep it together,” “don’t panic.” Take a break from watching the news or going on social media, and instead play a game or listen to music.
- Keep perspective by framing events in a larger context and staying grounded. This means weeding out distortions in our thinking. More than ever, we need clear thinking in crises. The world is not coming to end and everyone will not die—especially if we act intelligently.
- Be positive and solution-focused. Human beings are incredibly resilient and have weathered some unbelievable difficulties. The issue with any challenge is figuring out what to do about it.
In this case, we need to keep it together and act wisely without going to extremes. We will definitely get through this, and it will go down easier if we use the mature part of our brain where solutions abound—we just need to stay in our right mind!