The Flip Side of Stress

Jan 31, 2021

Sara was constantly feeling overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed by emails, meetings, endless decisions, and trying to balance her work and home life.  She was a successful manager something she had worked hard to achieve but she felt like she was not doing an adequate job at work nor at home.  When she started to feel overwhelmed and stressed, she would easily get frustrated with others or herself, lose focus and get bogged down in less important tasks.  Sara’s ability to make decisions, set boundaries and her interpersonal skills suffered, impacting her professional and personal relationships. 

Sara’s situation was not unique; so many of us are experiencing the challenges of working from home.  Having everyone at home for long periods of time is not easy!  Being productive while needing to help kids on zoom, prepare yet another meal or find a quiet corner to work in can be trying.  Working from home demands an even greater level of self-awareness and ability to manage our emotions.  When we are able to pause, identify what is happening with our mind and body we can learn to moderate our behaviors and emotions and to make more effective decisions.  

Research has shown that when in a high stress situation we automatically shift into “fight or flight mode”.  While this was super helpful in the jungle when being chased by a lion, on a zoom presentation it is far less productive. In the fight or flight mode our blood flows to our major organs (arms, legs, heart) and less gets to our brain- the main place we need it when making decisions.  So when you are in an important meeting and feeling challenged by a colleague or interrupted by a child who needs your attention, you may automatically begin to sweat,  feel your heart race or sense a knot in your stomach.  These automatic reactions are normal and the good news is that with practice you can get them more under control.

Harvard Business Review’s article entitled How to Keep Your Cool in High Stress Situations shows that in addition to feeling calmer when you are better able to control your automatic stress reaction, it can also help to open up new opportunities.  By regulating your emotions effectively and slowing down your reactions, you can actually become more collaborative, creative and thrive.  

Steps to becoming more collaborative and creative in a stressful situation include:

v  Understand the automatic biological response we naturally have to stressful situations

v  Identify your physiological responses – start to notice how your body responds to stress. 

-        Some of us experience rapid breathing, others a tightening of the chest or stomach, recognize your reaction as it is happening.  

v  Recall a time you got through a stressful situation and handled it successfully.

-         It is helpful to develop an image to connect you with this memory so you can quickly recall it during stressful times

v  Remember your ultimate goal in the interaction and move past your ego

-        By doing this you view the person across from you in a clearer more compassionate way which allows you to think more creatively in solving problems.

v  Be patient and trust the process- slowing your automatic response down will serve you well   


While we all need to be kind to ourselves in these challenging times, reframing how we view stressful situations can be empowering and allow for the inevitable experience of stress becoming a growth opportunity.