6 Secrets To Staying Calm At Work (And How To Keep It That Way)

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Staying Calm
Photo: Pixabay/Caio_Triana

I’ll be the first to say that I was not always great at staying calm in times of crisis.

I became accustomed to something I affectionately like to call ‘chaos culture’. It’s a term I use for workplaces that always seem to have that element of disorganization; from scheduling mishaps, to complete authority meltdowns.

Looking back I wish I had had the kind of personality that didn’t constantly try to fix the situation.

Inevitably when I thought I was tackling an issue head-on, I was actually making it worse. Staying calm in a tough position can mean the difference between weeks of stewing in regret, and having a zen-like reputation.

I generally prefer to talk things out in the moment instead of allowing tension to drag. Then I realized that what I saw as proactive many others considered reactive. But hey, what are your early 20’s for if not learning your lessons, right?

It became clear to me that I needed a better way to stay cool when “chaos culture” reared its ugly head.

So here are 6 ways to keep calm when everything goes wrong:

Staying Calm: Be Your Own Advocate

Our knee-jerk reaction is generally to get angry and start assigning blame. It’s normal but completely unhelpful.

Instead, keep still and silent. This not only gives you time to gather your thoughts, but it may also even give you an advantage. When you administer a heavy dose of silence people tend to divulge more.

Jacqueline Whitmore, the workplace etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School in Palm Beach, advises that you pretend to be your own representative. By picturing yourself as removed from the situation, you may able to gain a different perspective. Ask yourself, what advice would you give if you were on the outside looking in?

Staying Calm: 6 Counts In, 7 Counts Out

Jason Selk’s conscious breathing routine is so much more than visualizing your success. Deep meditative breathing slows your pulse and calms your heartbeat, which solves the physical symptoms of stress. This, in turn, helps you see things more clearly since anger is notorious for clouding judgment.

The 100 second (so doable!) routine goes like this:

  • Take a centering breath: In on a count of six, hold for two, out on a count of seven.
  • Say your identity statement: A personal affirmation, combined with a goal.
  • Play your personal highlight reel: Think about all of your most successful moments.
  • Say your identity statement: Repeat your previous affirmation.
  • Finish with another centering breath: Close it out with another centering breath.

By breathing deeply and reminding yourself of your priorities and successes, you give yourself permission to solve the problem.

Often when we feel overwhelmed by an erupting situation at work, we become convinced it is too large an issue for us to untangle, or that we aren’t properly equipped to handle it. It’s important to feel capable in moments of chaos.

Staying Calm: Sleep On It (Sort Of)

Whatever time you can spare to spend away from the aggravating situation, take it. Nothing cools heated arguments more than going for a walk and getting some space.

Anger and irritation are fleeting feelings. They come out strong but burn out quickly.

By removing yourself from the source of your frustration, your feelings can finally start to dissipate. This saves you from blurting something out that you might later regret.

Of course, simply leaving a discussion can feel abrupt, but excusing yourself for even 5 minutes can often be enough for you to diffuse.

Staying Calm: Don’t Let Your Mind Run Amuck

It’s easy in a crisis to start a mental domino-effect and run through everything that could go wrong. ‘What if’-ing your way through the situation is not only unhelpful, it can create a greater sense of panic as your imagination runs wild.

Don’t let your mind snowball while there’s still a chance to melt the ice.

Take a beat and ask yourself “What can I do today to help?” and stick with that line of thinking. There’s no sense in focusing on next week’s consequences when you’re here today.

Staying Calm: Reach Out To Someone You Trust

Venting is cathartic, and while it’s not recommended in the long run, talking to a friend or confidante can help put things into the right perspective.

When you are explaining your story to a friend, you are simultaneously discovering what the root cause of your frustration might be. Maybe you aren’t mad at the situation at all, but you feel as though you aren’t being listened to. Maybe you feel left out of the loop, or taken by surprise.

Whatever the core reason is, saying it out loud can help you identify the issue and address it with greater clarity.

Try to avoid divulging to co-workers, however, as they may be too close to the situation.

Staying Calm: It's Tension, Not A Tattoo

When you’re in the eye of the storm it can be a challenge to remind yourself that it will eventually die down.

As Daniel Wallen, freelance writer and personal development guru, writes, “This thing that seems like the end of the world right now? It’s not (promise).” And no truer words have been spoken.

Whatever the situation, chances are it will not be permanent. This means there will be a day when you can look back at how you handled it and either beam with pride or learn a valuable lesson. Either way, this too shall pass.

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Let your cooler head prevail and find a calming tool that works for you. Whether it’s one of the 6 above, or simply counting backward from ten, experiment with what helps keep you centered and in control of your emotions.

There’s no doubt you can handle more than you think you can, and the only thing getting in your way is yourself.

Be the rock in the thunderstorm, and the coolest cucumber on the shelf. You got this.

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Tara Millette
Tara has been writing for over 6 years, from stand-up comedy, to think-pieces, to political satire and blog posts. She now writes and edits for LEADx.org, and her door is open to any interested contributors.