No leadership job is without stress, and when it hits, you can either spiral or figure out a way to stay calm under pressure. Diana Hendel, PharmD and Mark Goulston, MD, authors of Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD offers this advice to better manage your stress:
Do frequent self “check-ins”
When you’re busy and under pressure to perform, it’s easy to go on “autopilot.” Periodically pause and do a quick self-assessment throughout the day. Consider your emotional state (Do I feel friendly and engaged, or edgy and aggressive?) as well as your physical state (Is my body calm and at ease, or is it holding onto tension?).
“Take 20 or 30 seconds to scan your body and identify areas that may be holding onto tension or stress,” says Dr. Hendel. “For example, you might be carrying tension in your jaw or shoulders. When you notice an area that is tense, gently release the tension. Over time it should become easier to recognize when stress begins to take hold—and to do something about it.”
Pause and take a few deep breaths
We tend to hold our breath whenever we are stressed, but this only exacerbates feelings of anxiety and panic. Instead, use “box breathing” to calm yourself and heighten your concentration. Box breathing is the technique of taking slow, deep, full breaths.
Slowly exhale your breath through your mouth. Consciously focus on clearing all the oxygen from your lungs. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for four slow counts. Hold your breath for four more slow counts. On the next four counts, exhale again through your mouth until your lungs are empty. Hold your breath again for a final slow count of four beats.
Reach for something that anchors you in the moment
Carry a small reminder of what you love about your life and focus on it if you feel triggered and need to center yourself. It might be a photo of your kids or pet, a small rock you picked up on a scenic nature hike, or a special necklace. Think of the gratitude you feel for your life whenever you look at this token.
Use calming affirmations to give you strength and peace
Written positive statements can give you a lift when you feel yourself sinking. If self-talk is not for you, imagine a supportive other saying these to you in your mind’s eye. A few examples:
- I am great at my job, and my training and skills are empowering.
- I feel energized and ready for anything the day has in store for me.
- I accept myself as I am. I am enough.
Play a mind game
“If there is no way to speak to someone else and you need comfort in the moment, imagine talking to someone who loves you,” says Dr. Goulston. “Imagine that they are listening and lovingly holding and encouraging you. As you hear them talking and walking you through it, you will feel their love and belief in you. This kind of mental pep talk can be a bridge until you are able to speak your feelings to somebody in person.”
Head outdoors for a few minutes
If at all possible, try to get outside for a few minutes of fresh air. Take deep breaths, stretch your arms and legs, and take in the gifts of nature around you.
Don’t just turn to these strategies when you feel stress or anxiety rising in your mind or body. Intentionally practice them daily—even if you are feeling calm and in control. Stress management is a skill you must work at until it becomes a natural part of your life.
About the Book:
Why Cope When You Can Heal?: How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD is an essential resource for doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare professionals—and the leaders who support them—as they navigate the traumatic stress they have experienced and continue to face. It is available in bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.