We’re constantly told that we live in stressful times, or that the modern world is more stressful than its ever been, or that stress is the number one cause of everything bad. Sometimes I wonder if every generation thought their lives were more stressful than the one before. Put it in perspective and we probably have far less to be stressed about, in the West at least; no TB, comparatively little violence, higher standards of living, more choices (N.B. some studies have shown that the more choice we have the more anxious we can feel!!).
But stress is a part of life, and it probably always will be; we’re wired for stress. Of course anxiety and stress can affect how we communicate and be very negative. It can stop us being the nice individuals we usually are, it can distract us off task, it can strain relationships, and reduce our ability to lead. You can’t eliminate stress, but how do you handle it?
Here are some simple rules for dealing with stress when you’re in an interpersonal or presentation situation.
1. Don’t panic. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was right. Panic solves nothing. If you feel yourself panicking take a deep breathe, go for a walk, or drink some water. Take things slow, and remember – it’s not life or death.
2. Know who to share stress with. If you’re giving a presentation or leading a team, you don’t want to communicate the fact that you’re stressed (or as stressed as you are). Be calm wherever possible, it inspires confidence. At the same time, confiding in someone you can trust that you’re stressed will usually make you feel better, and probably release some of the burden, but try not to confide in someone who’ll become stressed by what you’re saying.
3. Prioritize. I don’t know about you, but I can really get stressed about the little things, when they’re really not worth it. Is it honestly worth getting flustered about the small stuff? Just think to yourself how impactful events really are, and try to let yourself see them in perspective. Most of those little stresses really don’t stand up to what you’re really worried about, so why worry at all.
4. Act. If something is stressing you out (especially if it’s a little thing), sort it out if possible. Paying off that bill and doing some small tasks can really make a difference to how you feel, and often crossing off little things on the list feels like a weight off.
5. Don’t take it out on others. People don’t appreciate being someone else’s stressball, no matter how strong the relationship. If you start doing this, it will become a habit and people will start to resent you.
6. Sleep. Staying up all night trying to get things done is counter-productive. A good night can make a difference.
Remember, stress is one of the biggest obstacles to being at ease and being an effective communicator. There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed, but the better you manage it, the better grip you’ll have on your personality, how you communicate, and your personal impact.