How I learned to overcome stressful situations at work

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Pausing is a skill. Yet, I am the queen of the knee-jerk reaction. Saying whatever comes to whenever it comes to mind and not considering the repercussions.

This works fine with people who already know and love my quirky self, but it’s gotten me into trouble with work folks. And it’s something I’ve really had to work on. Now, it’s one thing to be mindful during calm, friendly conversations.

It’s another thing when you’re feeling frustration or anger toward someone.

It’s easy to say you will pause the next time you find yourself ready to go on the offensive or about to have a panic attack. But once you’re faced with it, pausing can feel impossible.

So, don’t face the pause on your own. Let’s go through this pause together. Once you master it, you’ll be able to handle any tense moment, even one at work. 

As Yourself: What Would My Best Friend Do? 

Sometimes, when I’m pausing, I ask myself: What Would Ellen Do? No, not Ellen DeGeneres, although she is awesome. My best friend, Ellen, is the most positive person I know. She has the purest values, morals, and intentions. So, whenever I start feeling a devilish impulse, I think about what my real-life guardian angel Ellen would do, and then I do that instead.

For example, if I’m considering firing off a nasty email in response to a message that seems unfair, I’ll pause instead, think about what Ellen would do, and then pick up the phone to call the person to talk through the miscommunication. Pausing to think of Ellen reminds me to be more mindful of my actions and how they will help or hurt the situation. So, who is your Ellen? 

Know Your Stress Triggers

The HALT System recognizes that when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, you’re most likely to make poor decisions. Don’t let these negative stressors trigger the wrong choice. If you’re HALT, then halt decision-making until you’re not. 

Make Moves

To get out of your head, tap into your senses with the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” method: notice five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Get up. Walk around. I often take a little ride up and down in the elevator for a breather. The motion and the people watching takes the edge off and gives me the pause I need to move on to the next step: processing what’s happening and deciding what I should do about it. 

Hit the Freezer 

There’s a reason you see professional athletes chilling in huge tubs of ice on the sidelines at halftime; it’s not just to bring down swelling from the hits taken on the field. Ice has a real physiological benefit. It brings your heart rate back to normal quickly and redirects your blood where it’s needed the most: to your heart and internal organs.

Holding an ice cube is often recommended by therapists as a grounding exercise—the physical sensation of shocking cold is so intense that it demands your attention and forces you into the present (and out of your own head). You can cool yourself down with an ice cube, or by pressing a cold washcloth or chilled drink from the vending machine against your skin. If you’re at home, take a cold shower or fill a large bowl with icy water and submerge your face for a few moments. I’m serious: when you’re heated, ice does wonders for your body and your mind. 

I know that emotions feel like they will last forever, especially if you’re stuck at your desk in an open floor plan office after a stressful call or meeting. But, while emotions are a complex biochemical process in the body, not a subjective feeling, they are programmed to only last thirty to forty seconds if played out. Think about how fast a baby can go from giggly to hysterically crying. We are prewired to shift emotional states very quickly.

You can’t just make an emotion “go away.” Mindfulness helps you keep them in check, and, in fact, use them to work toward your goals and get ahead. 

Excerpted from Becoming Super Woman: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Go from Burnout to Balance.  

Nicole Lapin is the New York Times Bestselling author of Rich Bitch and Boss Bitch. She is the host of the nationally syndicated business reality competition show, “Hatched.” She has been an anchor on CNN, CNBC and Bloomberg. Her latest book, Becoming Super Woman, is available now.