You might remember the Jet Blue flight attendant who melted down a few years back after a passenger wouldn’t apologize when his luggage came down on the attendant's noggin. The attendant went on the intercom shouting obscenities, grabbed a couple beers, and slid down the emergency escape chute.
It may have felt good for a moment, but in retrospect, he would have handled things differently. When we act on fight-or-flight impulse, we do dumb things, because our brain isn’t thinking, it’s simply reacting with the raw emotion of a cornered animal.
Meltdowns don’t solve any problem and cause a bunch of others. Some people are much better at managing transient emotions than others, and that tells us something very important. That means that there is a way to manage pressure, because some are able to do it.
EYE OF THE STORM
Staying calm is a good idea because that's when we have use of all our faculties, when the 21st century brain, not our caveman/woman brain that thinks it's the year 100,000 B.C., is in charge. The storm may be raging all around us, but the goal is to avoid getting swept up in it, to stay in the eye of the storm, in it but not of it.
Letting the storms set us off isn’t productive or healthy. As soon as the stress response goes off, we are not in control of our modern brain anymore. It’s been hijacked by the raw emotions of the amygdala. Stress undermines intellect. We make decisions from fear, panic, or rage. Bad decisions.
With emotions on a hair-trigger, we send curt emails, snap at people, lose focus, and push any semblance of work-life balance further from reach. Stress suppresses the play equipment in our brains and locks in a danger signal that suppresses the immune system until you turn off the false signal. The reality is high-pressure situations are challenging, but they're not life-or-death as your ancient brain thinks. Our stress-management classes and coaching and work-life balance programs provide tools to reframe the thoughts that drive stress.
We can change the thoughts that turn demands into pressures our clueless ancient brain thinks we can’t cope with. The definition of stress is high demands and low control over them. That’s also the definition of being overwhelmed. When we feel we can’t cope, that triggers the stress response, which causes everything to feel more overwhelming, since it exaggerates the threat. When you believe you can’t cope, your ancient brain misinterprets that feeling as “I’m going to die.” Off goes the fight-or-flight response.
We can change the I-can’t-cope self-talk when we are under the gun. What are your thoughts when you're overwhelmed?
•Too much to do
• Everything has to be done now
• I'll never get it all done
• I won't be able to cope
I won’t be able to cope is the bottom line of all fear. I won’t be able to handle it.
YOU CAN COPE
The solution is letting your brain know you can cope. That means coming up with another story than the one being supplied by the panicked brain.Yes, I have 200 emails, but I can handle it. It's not life-or-death and doesn't warrant your body's emergency system being activated.
The strategy we all need is Value Questioning. Don’t feed the mental accelerators by making everything urgent. Qualify it. Ask two questions:
What’s the urgency of doing it now?
What are the consequences of waiting?
THE POWER OF PATIENCE
Patience is the key to staying calm in the storm. Patience is a word we usually hate to hear, because when it comes up, it usually means we’ve lost it.
It’s really about self-regulation. Patience gives us impulse control. We’re not children. We don’t have to go off when something flares up. Patience is the exercise of managing pace, ego, and emotions.
Patience isn’t passive. It’s a state of active non-reaction. We have to call it up consciously, and use it to override our emotional reflexes—and put the 21st century brain back in charge of the runaway train.