Stress is a constant in all our lives.  The stress involved with performing at the top of your game, the stress involved with balancing your professional and personal lives, the stress involved with having to meet financial goals and obligations, the stress involved with having too much to do and not enough time in which to do it.   The list goes on and on but, is all stress “bad?”  Can “some” stress be “good?”

Yes, intermittent stress is good.  According to a recent study at the University of California at Berkeley under the direction of post doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby,  “…intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert…you perform better when you’re more alert.”

So now that we agree that stress is a constant in our lives and that intermittent stress can actually be helpful, how do we best deal with and remain calm under the stress we have?

TalentSmart, a leading research firm specializing in talent and management issues, recently published a study of 1 million workers and found that 90% of top performing professionals are skilled at dealing with moderate stress levels. Here are some strategies these top performing people use to remain calm, regain control and empower themselves while experiencing stress.  Know that overwhelming anxiety and empowerment are mutually exclusive.

  1.  They appreciate what they have and they are grateful for it.  A study at the University of California at Davis reported that gratitude improves mood, energy and physical well being and that gratitude reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, by 23%.
  2. They avoid thinking about the “what if’s.”  Spend less time focusing on what if possibilities and more time focusing on action.  Action helps keep calm while keeping stress under control.
  3. They stay positive.  Focus on the one positive thing that happened today or yesterday even if that one positive thing is that you made it to an appointment with a client on time.
  4. They disconnect/take a break from their screens and phones for a block of time. Being unavailable for a bit of the day helps recharge you throughout the day.
  5. They limit their caffein intake.  Caffeine triggers adrenaline; adrenaline triggers fight or flight mechanisms; flight or flight mechanisms trigger stress.  And, it takes a long time for caffeine to get out of your body so the stress it creates is not intermittent.
  6. They sleep.  Sleeping recharges the brain and emotional intelligence; both are needed to manage stress.
  7. They squash negative self talk.  Write down negative, pessimistic things and get them out instead of carrying them around in your head.  Writing them down will help you evaluate those thoughts more clearly and objectively.  Likely, you’ll find those thoughts are not facts.
  8. They reframe their perspective.  You can’t control your circumstances (traffic, deadlines, bosses, etc.) but you can control how you respond to those circumstances.
  9. They breathe.  Try focusing only on breathing.  If that doesn’t work, try counting your breaths to help prevent your mind from wandering.
  10. They use their support systems. Seeking advice and ideas from friends about stressful situations can generate new ideas about ways to deal with the stress, mitigate stress levels and/or strengthen the relationships you have with your friends. All of those things will help you return to and maintain your calm.