How to stay calm in a crisis

NINA HENDY
Last updated 11:23 05/03/2014

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A potential crisis looms around every corner. And while it can be a challenge, staying calm is what is needed to get on with the task at hand.

Elisa Limburg runs a Sydney events and marketing company, and has been put in extremely stressful situations that have tested her.

For instance, in one incident a client sent out a draft media release to their networks before it was finalised. Another time a staff member from another client company sent a full budget spreadsheet to a new client, exposing their over-inflated figures.

She tries hard not to get in a flap when these situations happen. Instead, she figures out her priorities and addresses them in order of urgency.

"I'll take a brief walk out of the office to clear my head if things are really stressful," she says.

"Taking time away from others can help my thought processes. Sometimes I'll meditate, even if only for a few minutes, to clear my mind of everything and focus on breathing and relaxing."

Business coach and crisis recovery specialist Tracie O'Keefe says a typical response to a stressful situation is to get into panic mode, react emotionally and focus on the worst-case scenarios that could happen as a result of the crisis.

''While emotions can drive actions, when they precede good assessment processes, you're firing at an unknown target with a blindfold across your eyes."

She recommends getting all the information you can before making a decision on what to do next.

"While the temptation may be to react emotionally to the situation and start 'awfulising', it's far better to take a measured and informed approach, because you're able to see more possibilities than when you're in the middle of a panic," she says.

You may have a problem with stress if you're constantly sweating, have shortness of breath, feel anxious, hear your heart pounding, get angry easily, drink or smoke to mask your problems, or argue with everyone over the silliest things.

You may also be more susceptible to a range of physical conditions such as digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome and tight, painful muscles or aching joints, O'Keefe says.

Break the cycle by first noticing your reaction, assessing what you're saying to yourself.

"What critical, dramatic self-talk is going on inside your mind? Then change the dialogue," says O'Keefe.

"Tell yourself this is an opportunity to grow and be open to new, creative possibilities. Also, get your staff, if you have them, to help you remedy the situation. Don't try to do everything yourself - spread the load."

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When something stressful happens, it's important to acknowledge the problem isn't going to go away by itself, review the situation, analyse the pros and cons and determine the options, says Will Hocking, managing partner of business strategy and advice firm Hocking Enterprises.

"Review each option and determine which will have the most positive effect on the business," Hocking says.

"Then make a decision and implement the best-case scenario."

Avoid taking your own stress out on your team, advises the publisher of opinion site The Big Smoke, Alexandra Tselios, who employs three people.

It's easy to get frustrated with your team if they don't seem to put as much of themselves into their work as they should do, she says.

"But people don't operate effectively under passive-aggressive tension, and you can intuitively sense when someone or something is unravelling," she says.

"If you're nervous about your company, or stressed out, you must remember that the energy you're releasing to your team will affect their productivity, ultimately stagnating business activity further."

Instead, remain calm under pressure and communicate company objectives, which will ensure your team understand the severity of a situation without the panic, she says.

Keeping cool in the heat of the moment

In a crisis, it's important not to let your emotions hijack you. You need to calm down in order to manage the fight or flight response.

Science has shown that the best way to create an integrated and coherent response is to tap into all your inner resources within your head, heart and gut.

Start by practising balance breathing. Inhale for six seconds, and exhale for six seconds. In a few minutes, this will get you into a flow state, where you can create balance in your nervous system and access your intuition.

From here, you can tap into your heart for what's important, your head to assist you in creating solutions and your gut to manage the risks for the courage to act.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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