Are you shouting at your co-workers or family? Would you do almost anything to get away? Are you acting out or underperforming? Are you “losing it” from time to time under pressure from work deadlines, family life, or a combination of both?
Although I don’t usually write about these issues, the nature of my work and the intense pressures that trial practice can bring make me a bit of an amateur expert in such things. Unfortunately, I have seen trial teams and individuals break down many times, and I don't think it has to end up that way.
Here are a few things that you can do, or encourage someone else to do, to gain control of your own emotions and of a situation. No one is immune to these issues; rather, we are all prone to cross an anxiety threshold that we are not comfortable with. It’s all in how we handle it.
I have written before about how individuals and groups behave when their anxiety levels are high. In short, they behave in a series of progressively worse ways that are all essentially forms of a fight-or-flight response.
Instead of allowing yourself to slip into fight or flight, here are some productive ways of retraining your brain to help deal with the anxiety.
First, ask what your own role was in creating the bad situation. Often, all we see is how others caused something to happen to us. Forcing yourself to understand your role in creating the problem is often a first step to getting back on the right track.
Second, get in the habit of asking yourself what is the one thing you can do right now to make things a bit better for everyone involved. Sometimes, a solution is a bit like eating an elephant. You just have to take one bite at a time.
Third, make sure that you are not engaged in mindless bickering with co-workers or others. Fighting is, of course, one of the most common examples of a fight-or-flight response. Often, when people fight they are really trying to deal with anxiety in a dysfunctional way.
Fourth, make sure you are not simply fleeing a situation that you could help solve. Perhaps you have the skills and the opportunity to fix things. If you can help, why shouldn’t you? After all, don't you want the situation to be better?
Fifth, make sure you’re not just wasting your time and that of others by mindlessly talking about the person or thing that is causing the anxiety. Doing this does nothing to make the anxiety dissipate. It simply creates more unnecessary drama. Again, try doing one thing right now to make things better.
Sixth, ask yourself if you are withdrawing from the situation without even knowing it. Withdrawal is another form of fight-or-flight behavior. You can think of it as flight without moving your feet. Avoid this behavior.
Seventh, are you trying to get other people to solve problems for you, make decisions for you or just want someone to make the anxiety go away. Well, it's not up to them, right? So, who should work the problem? You should, not them.
Eighth, if your challenge is longer term and less situational, practice a whole range of scientifically-proven methods to make things better including meditation, managing diet, exercise, yoga, sleeping, doing peaceful things, thinking positively, asking for help and seeing a doctor.
Ninth, put one foot in front of the other. Don't be blown about by every wind. Live one day at a time. Live one hour at a time if you have to. There are a whole host of ways to simply treat big problems as little ones. Ask yourself, at this very moment, "am I okay?" If so, move on to the next moment.
Tenth, ask if you are making the problem worse. If you are engaging in behaviors that are distracting to the group and you just cannot control your emotions, then consider taking yourself out of the game, at least temporarily. After all if you want the problem solved, try not to make it worse. Even if you are headed to trial, your colleagues will understand if you need a day of downtime. They probably already know.
Anyone can learn to effectively manage one's psychology, even in very difficult times. Following these steps will help you become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
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