How to stay calm at work

Sophia goes over her notes one last time before heading to bed. She wants the presentation tomorrow to go well, and she knows falling back on what she rehearsed will help ease her nerves when the pressure is on. Before sleeping, she sets her alarm for a bit earlier than usual in order to have some extra time to ease into the next morning.

Sophia and her coworkers do a good job of explaining the new marketing campaign to their client. They happily field questions at the end. One gentleman expresses discontent about the timeline. He keeps demanding changes beyond what Sophia’s company reasonably could do by the agreed-upon deadline. Faces redden more by the second, and answers become increasingly curt.

Noticing the frustration, Sophia suggests the group break for ten minutes. In another room, Sophia takes some deep breaths and encourages her fellow team members to do the same. With clearer heads, they brainstorm a few ideas. When they return to the meeting, they present these thoughts. The client agrees with one of the suggestions. The two sides work to iron out a mutually satisfactory outcome.

The benefits of calmness

“Keep calm and carry on” is more than a catchphrase in the modern work environment. Adopting this mantra provides a variety of personal and professional advantages when stressful situations arise. Reasons for developing the ability to stay calm include:

Better physical and mental well-being

Simply put, work stress does not feel good. When exposed to stressors, the adrenal glands make and release cortisol. This hormone is a natural “flight or fight” stress response, but it elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Over time, a high level of cortisol can be a contributor to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and other ailments. Elevated stress levels also can take a toll on mental health, causing serious problems such as depression, anxiety, and burnout.

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Better ability to think

When someone gets flustered by emotions such as fear, anger, or panic, rational thinking becomes harder. A brain clouded by negative thoughts and feelings experiences difficulty coming up with viable alternatives and solutions. Maintaining a sense of calmness improves the ability to focus and “think straight.”

Better ability to listen

Similarly, a worked-up person often stops paying close attention to what those around him are saying. Missing details or not truly hearing what someone else is attempting to convey can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Remaining calm enhances comprehension and moves parties closer to resolution.

Better professional appearance

Managers and peers often view frazzled employees as less competent. Instead of exuding a sense of control, panickers may come off as too emotional or fragile. Alternately, people who remain calm under pressure earn respect and trust. Their level-headed behavior encourages a similar response from others.

Strategies for staying calm in the moment

Understanding the importance of calmness is one thing, but maintaining composure in high-pressure situations is quite another. It’s definitely easier said than done, especially if the stressor catches you by surprise.

To settle down in the moment, try some breathing exercises. The short, shallow breaths individuals take when tense fail to supply cells with proper amounts of oxygen. Instead, slowly breathe in through your nose until your belly fills with air. Then, breathe out slowly through your nose. Repeat three times. Some people find it helpful to simultaneously imagine breathing in a positive attitude and breathing out negativity.

Another effective tactic is “talking” to yourself. Aloud if alone or internally if not, say encouraging phrases such as “stay calm,” “I’ve got this,” and “no need to panic.” These reminders settle nerves and boost confidence.

As Sophia smartly suggested in the opening, removing oneself from a tense situation for a few minutes provides an opportunity to regain composure. In stressful jobs, it can even pay to have a prearranged buddy system where a peer takes over while the employee getting worked up takes five. For instance, a customer service representative who is getting nowhere with an irate buyer might ask her colleague to step in while she departs to settle down and reframe her thoughts. She can return the favor for her helpful peer when needed.

When a nerve-wracking event occurs in the workplace, watch not to experience contagion. Some people are quick to get hyper, and their anxiety can spread throughout the staff. Aim to remain calm and maintain perspective.

Tips for promoting calmness

A great way to keep your cool is to do what you can to prevent tense occurrences from happening. Obviously, sometimes they still will – nobody controls everything. But taking action where you can may limit the number and severity of instances.

Prepare and practice

Have an important presentation or anticipate a difficult conversation? Think ahead of time about what you want to say rather than winging it in the moment. Read the material beforehand. Gather the data. Try out the tech you’re using to catch any kinks. You’ll promote a sense of calmness, confidence, and control when face to face with others.

Do not overwhelm yourself

Calmness goes out the window when situations seem insurmountable. Have an unruly to-do list? Prioritize the items on it. Facing a large assignment? Break the project down into do-able chunks. The mind rests easier when it sees everything has its own scheduled time for completion.

Watch, too, what events are going on in your personal life. For example, if you are hosting a family celebration next week, taking a day of PTO beforehand to shop and clean may eliminate a great deal of stress. Likewise, when your teething baby decides to pull an all-nighter, postponing important decisions at work the next day might be smarter than trying to operate on a foggy brain.

Improve your emotional intelligence

Read books on the subject. Watch TED Talks. Take a class. People high in emotional intelligence recognize and understand their own feelings and those of others. They read social cues. They empathize by putting themselves in other’s shoes. All of these things lead to less conflict and more productive interaction . . . and calmness.

Maintain good practices

A positive work-life balance promotes serenity. Eat healthy, regularly-scheduled meals. Watch caffeine intake. Engage in physical activity. Learn how to meditate. Take breaks during the workday. Unplug from tech during non-work hours. Relax and have fun with loved ones. Watch funny movies to improve your mood. Volunteer for a cause to feel good and gain perspective. Pack your briefcase the night before to avoid rushing around in the morning. Seek professional help if problems with your physical or mental health persist.

At the office, pay attention to your work environment. Display an item or two that makes you feel happy, inspired, and calm – perhaps pictures from a family vacation, fresh flowers in a pretty vase, or a plaque containing a favorite quote. Dedicate time to creating a clean, organized cubicle. Such an atmosphere promotes a sense of peace rather than chaos (and you’ll love being able to find things when you need them). Not only will your mood improve, your office reputation may too as others come to associate your space with order and tranquility.