How to Stay Calm When Things Go Wrong

You know the feeling. Somehow something important slipped through the cracks and now your boss is looking for someone to blame. No matter what your title is, all eyes can be on you. You feel the heat rising in your body. Maybe you’re feeling a little trembly. Or there’s literally a sinking feeling in your stomach, like you’ve been punched. The adrenalin rush, the WTF confusion thoughts…How did this happen… runs through your mind. Your mind is rushing to remember where the gap was that allowed this gaff to happen. You might not even be able to see – the adrenaline floods the brain with stress hormones so fast.

Now’s the time to slow it all down and gain your composure — but how? I want you to know how to recover when everything is in fast motion causing an anxiety attack and mental blur.

I’ve worked with a lot of people who automatically see themselves as the guilty, faulty party. They are so responsible they step right up and know (even if they didn’t) they’ve screwed up. Those thoughts aren’t pretty;  the shame/blame vortex takes us to a place that’s hard to climb out of, and the lingering fear can keep you awake too many nights after the crisis subsides. You will not win the respect you want from your boss or your colleagues if you’re a panting pup trying to catch your tail! It’s essential to see clearly, and not be fogged by panic.

What to do when things go haywire: Pay attention to your BODY

You need to quickly respond to bad news by managing your body’s reaction.

  1. Start by taking several deep breaths — try breathing in to 4 slow beats, and out with another 4 — to keep your pre-frontal cortex from being overloaded with the fight, flight or freeze trauma response.  This slow deep breathing will help you regain the oxygen you need to lower the adrenaline surge and stop the trauma (stress) from lodging in your body memory.
  2. Even if you’ve reacted in a way you didn’t want to, you now have the wherewithal to know how best to respond. You can even have the mental capacity to go back to people who may have seen you momentarily lose it and apologize, and show you’ve regained your composure.
  3. Find out the facts of the situation to help you and others assess what’s happened. Slowing things down enables you to have the measured presence of a leader who takes responsibility instead of taking reactive action.
  4. Now you can calmly assure everyone that you’re on it. You can delegate if you need to but you’re taking care to problem solve with clarity and calm.

Be that person who can handle those inevitable mistakes, crises, and snafus with poise and calm and you’ll develop and embody a deeper level of confidence. You’ll show up, and be, the kind of person who inspires others to put their trust in you. You’ll be a genuine leader.