Managers can show themselves as true leaders during a crisis. How do leaders handle themselves during a crisis? How do they handle their uncertainty and fear? They use the energy they derive from their feelings to face the crisis and deal with it as effectively as possible.
Dealing with a short-term crisis
If the crisis flares up and is over quickly, then try these simple steps to maintain your own emotional balance.
- Stop. As soon as you begin to feel the first rush of anxiety flooding your mind, say "Stop!" to yourself. Say "Stop!" out loud. Repeat the message two more times. To face a crisis, you need to have a clear mind as unclouded by anxiety, toxic stress, and fear as possible. Thus, recognizing those feelings and verbally pushing back can block them from controlling your mind and actions.
- Breathe. Take a deep breath. Hold that breath for eight seconds, and then slowly let the air out. Just as the word "stop" blocks the negative thoughts from your mind, breathing overcomes the stress-induced tendency to hold your breath.
- Reflect. By interrupting the pattern of toxic stress and giving yourself energy through breathing, you can now focus on the real problem, the crisis you face. By reflecting on your stress response, you can begin to distinguish the different levels of thought and to sort out reasonable from irrational stress responses. You can see the practical situation more calmly and realistically and distinguish it from the distortions of your anxiety-influenced thoughts.
- Choose. Finally, with your attention now on the practical situation itself, you can choose to find real solutions, follow the crisis plan your group has developed, and tend to the needs of the people you lead.
You may have to handle another kind of crisis—one that starts as a slow burn and then breaks out into a wildfire of trouble. For example, financial crises often start as small problems in receivables, or perhaps cash flow fluctuations, and then build to an inability to borrow or cover basic expenses. You may have a sense of the emerging crisis for several weeks or months, yet you're unable to stop the spread of trouble.
In this case, when you're coping with stress over long periods of time, taking care of yourself becomes even more important. Long-term stress can be toxic—physically harmful to you.
Taking care of yourself gives you the strength and stamina to take care of the impact of the crisis. So even when you feel hemmed in by the growing crisis, remember to
- talk to people—don't become isolated
- get enough sleep
- exercise regularly
- eat a balanced diet
- avoid alcohol, caffeine, or sugar
- take a break whenever you can
- find humor wherever you can