By Pamela A. Scott

This tough economy has many people living under a constant level of stress. We just keep working, working, working.

It is common for PMPs to have to jump into a fire-fighting role: having to jump into a situation, usually with a client, that is about to blow up because someone dropped the ball. We can’t eliminate all fires, but you can temper how you react to a fire-fighting situation.

Our brains, specifically the hypothalamus, are wired to keep things status quo. Even minor shifts in actions, attitudes or habits can throw the hypothalamus into panic mode. The body pumps out stress hormones that make the level of pressure you’re facing get more intense. It can be a vicious circle.

To counter this adrenaline and cortisol rush, you need to learn to calm yourself. How do you do that? Here are some suggestions.

1. Pay attention to the words you use. The language you use actually programs your brain. If you habitually say “I have to,” “I should,” “We need” you are setting yourself up for more stress. Instead, use “it would be nice to,” “I probably could do that,” and “Let’s aim for.”

One PMP recently complained about the chaos in his office. Granted, he has faced a lot of major stress recently, and it is chaotic. But the word “chaos” sends the brain into a frenzy, particularly when used over and over again.

Instead of “chaos,” our PMP chose to use “mess.” His brain was much happier and his stress level went down. Nothing else changed—just the word he used.

2. To the extent you can, rid yourself of sources of negativity: the news, the radio, the TV, some people. As with the words you use, the words you hear and read also play a part in programming your brain. You can choose what you use to program your brain.

3. Envision yourself reacting differently—calmly—to a fire-fighting situation you’ve just dealt with. Examine the lessons learned and apply them in the future.

4. Relax your eyes, jaw, tongue and hands, releasing tension. Doing so increases relaxation throughout the body. Remember those stress balls people kept on their desks to squeeze when under pressure?

5. Focus on the outcome you want in a situation, rather than focusing on the anxiety and problems that may come up. This practice entails taking a proactive way of thinking about a problem situation ahead of time. What positive outcome do you want? What do you have to say or do to ensure you get that outcome? And what do you have to do to reduce others’ ability to create tension?

We have more control of our anxiety than we realize. We just have to take control.

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