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Five steps can help to take control of stress |

Five steps can help to take control of stress

Andrea Kay
| Wednesday, December 14, 2011 12:00 a.m

“Oh, crap!” How many times a day do you say that, or perhaps something stronger?

It’s that moment you realize you lost the file with your last six months of notes for that make-or-break project. Or in the middle of a job interview when they ask: “Why’d you leave your last two jobs after only three months?

Out loud or to yourself, you react to stress many times in a day at work or in a job hunt. In that moment, it’s stress city. Hard to think straight. As a result, you say or do something you’ll regret.

What if you could keep yourself from being your own worst enemy and not become unglued in crisis or stressful situations?

The first and most important rule for taking control is to get yourself under control first, says Mark Goulston, author of “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting through to Absolutely Anyone.”

But, you may be saying, I already know how to handle a tense situation. Most likely, you don’t know how to do it fast enough, says Goulston, a psychiatrist and consultant to FBI agents and hostage negotiators.

Because a few minutes after a stressful encounter, you usually calm down a bit. Your pulse slows and you breath more slowly. Then minutes or hours later you gain enough self-control to think through your options. When it’s too late.

“You’ve already lost a sale, alienated a boss or co-worker. Or you’ve missed the moment to make a perfect comment or a great first impression,” he says.

In his book, Goulston says in a moment of a big crisis we go through a five-step process. This includes the:

• “Oh, $#@&” reaction phase. (“I’m screwed; it’s all over.)

• “Oh, God” release phase. (“This stuff always happens to me.”)

• “Oh, jeez” recenter phase. (“All right, I can fix this…”)

• “Oh, well” refocus stage. (“I’m not going to let this ruin my career. … Here’s what I need to do to make it better.”

• “OK” re-engage phase. (“I’m ready to fix this.”)

The secret is becoming consciously aware of these stages so you can “manipulate your emotional response at each stage” and then speed up the steps from start to end in minutes, Goulston says.

He’s not suggesting that you can solve a crisis in minutes. He is saying that you can think your way through to the possible solution that quickly.

So the first step to move your brain from panic to logic “is to put words to what you’re feeling at each stage” — silently or out loud.

When first reacting to a stressful situation, you don’t want to “lie to yourself and say, ‘I’m cool. I’m calm. It’s fine.’ It’s time to say — at first, anyway — I’m scared as hell,” he says.

After acknowledging your feelings, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose until you let go of the powerful emotion.


It might help to say the words of each stage: “Oh, jeez. … Oh, well.” Then start to think of what you can do to control the damage, and do what you need to do.

This is also an invaluable tool if you tend to cry when feeling attacked by someone.

“By actively acknowledging the urge to cry — ‘OK, this is the Oh, God stage, and I feel like crying at this point’ — rather than trying to fight it, you’ll be in the powerful position of observing that option and deciding against it,” Goulston says.

Dozens of things can and will go wrong in your day. Rehearse these steps in your mind so that next time you’re bubbling over with anxiety, your brain will go from panic to logic much more quickly.

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