Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Six Ways to Turn Panic Into Urgency

Don’t Panic Badge by Jim Linwood via Flickr CC

Today, a guest post from Jarie Bolander. Busting Your Corporate Idol will return on Monday 

Panic is a horrible feeling.

When we panic, our stress levels have increased to the point where we feel out of control. This increases our anxiety and makes it more difficult to focus and make good decisions.

Many poor decisions, overworking, stress, anxiety and guilt can be attributed to panic. That’s why it’s important to change panic into urgency.

Urgency conveys the appropriate and right response to any situation while panic pushes our fight or flight buttons.

Urgency shows that we are in control while panic shows our lack of control.

Urgency demonstrates a command of the facts while panic shows we don’t know what’s going on.

Urgency instills confidence in those around us while panic makes others, well, panic.

Panic is Natural

Panic is a natural response to a life threatening situation. It’s a primal emotion that has helped us adapt, overcome and survive life threatening situations. It’s only logical that panic would carry on to modern humans because our ancestors used it to survive.

Nowadays, we don’t really face any life threatening situations where panic is warranted. Even during real life threatening situations, panic will most likely make the situation worst.

If panic is ingrained in our DNA, then how can we switch panic into the more manageable urgency?  Consider these six ways to do just that.

Way #1: Pause and Just Breath

Most panic happens when we react without thinking and our stress levels are high enough to push us over the edge. The good news is that panic is triggered by events known to us and the second and probably most important, is that panic is our fight or flight responses miss-firing in the absence of true danger.

By pausing and taking a deep breath, we can calm ourselves down and think about how the situation or event is triggering our fight or flight response and reassure ourselves that there is no danger — just an uncomfortable situation that we should deal with urgently.

Way #2: Apply The 24 Hour Rule

Decisions made in a panic will most likely be poor. By delaying a decision, for 24 hours if possible, it will allow us to gather more data and make the decision in a calm state.

The 24 hour rule is a great way to reduce corporate panic as well. In almost all cases, a corporate decision, be it a new result or competitor, can and should be delayed in order to either confirm the data or event or formulate a better plan.

Way #3: Explore Alternatives

When we feel we have no control over a situation, we tend to panic.

This panic prompts us to attempt to quickly fix whatever is broken. In some ways, this progress, even if it’s bad, makes us feel at least something is being done.

It also reduces the criticism of others that nothing is being done. If we are running around in a frenzied panic, our boss or colleagues will at least get the sense we care.

Outwardly, it may appear that progress is being made, but in reality, the moment panic sets in, progress will be haphazard, slow and consume more resources.

It’s much better to explore other ways to solve the issue or situation before just jumping into a totally random path or continue down an unproductive path.

When we explore alternatives, it also gives us more of a sense of control of the situation which will reduce our level of anxiety and panic.

Way #4: Get Unnaturally Calm

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, in this article, recounts the advice his father gave him about managing fear (which is the precursor to panic). His dad’s advice was:

“The most important lesson my dad taught me was how to manage fear. Early on, he taught me that in a time of emergency, you’ve got to become deliberately calm. He used to say, “The more people are yelling and screaming around you, the calmer you should become. Become unnaturally calm. Somebody’s got to be able to figure a way out of the jam. And you’ll be able to do that.” — Rudy Giuliani

That advice served Mayor Giuliani well during September 11th and the subsequent panic that ensued.

Remaining calm during a crisis takes practice and not everyone can pull it off but it’s important to remember that those that remain calm and carry on will be more able to deal with stressful situations.

Way #5: Slow Down

After pausing, it’s important to assess the situation and deliberately slow down and think about what to do. Obviously in cases of life and death, rapid reactions are important but even then, if you feel yourself starting to panic, taking that deep breath and slowing down the situation, if practical. This will still maintain a sense of urgency but reduce the level of panic considerably.

How slow should you go? The pace of urgency is just enough to show that the situation is important but not too much that we feel we must make hasty decisions. Decisions made in haste will be of lower quality and may even exacerbate our level of panic.

Way #6: Go With the Flow

We all have the illusion of control to some degree or another. Greg’s example here of when Pat had a panic attack because he felt he had control when he really did not illustrates that we can only attempt to guide a situation to resolution — we really can’t completely control everything.

Once we realize that we don’t have complete control of a situation, we can more easily reduce our panic and go with the flow of the situation.

This is especially important when others rely on us to solve complex problems. It’s extremely tempting to feel empowered and in control to get things done when really it’s just an illusion that we all need to realize.

Reduce Panic and Live a Better Life

My hope is that all of us can reduce the levels of stress and panic we feel when things don’t go exactly as planned. By striving to do this, we can make better decisions and live a fuller, panic free life. Switching the times we panic into urgency will help us do just that.

Are their other ways that we can switch the panic we feel into urgency? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Jarie Bolander is an engineering by training, entrepreneur by nature and leader by endurance. His site, EnduranceLeader.com combines two of this passions — leadership and endurance athletics. He is also the author of #ENDURANCE tweet — A Little Nudge to Keep You Going. Feel free to follow him on Twitter via @EnduranceLeader

Did 70-Hour Work Weeks a Decade Ago Lead to Adrenal Gland Fatigue Today?


Rat Race by Ethan Block via Flickr CC

A guest Post by Dawn Pier

In 2002 I quit my job, sold almost everything I owned and moved to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to follow a dream to learn to surf.  Eight years later I had undergone a complete transformation from an unhappy, stressed out, overweight research scientist to a woman content, fit and fully ensconced in the Baja life.  My 70 hour work weeks and frequent travel were long behind me. Early in my tenure in Mexico, I founded a community conservation organization to protect the most important coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Now I surfed almost daily, picked up odd jobs, and maintained a large estate to support myself. For all intents and purposes, I had an ideal and laidback lifestyle.

In 2011, however, I began having difficulty waking up in the morning. My morning tea didn’t seem to be doing the trick any more and gradually I turned to coffee – a beverage I normally avoid due to the severe effects it has on me – to help me get going in the morning. Despite being passionately obsessed with surfing, I found it increasingly difficult to rally the energy to get out the door and to the beach. Gradually, I began to crave salt like it was a drug and responded by eating potato chips by the oversized bag. I craved red meat and converted from a virtual vegan to a steak and hamburger obsessed junky. A year later, I had gained almost 20 pounds. I sought medical help, but the tests all came back normal. Frustratingly normal.

The downward spiral continued almost imperceptibly, but by May of that year, I was dragging my ass in a way I had never experienced before. Despite copious amounts of coffee, it took three hours for me to feel awake each morning and by afternoon my energy level crashed and my head spun. I couldn’t concentrate and my writing began to suffer. One afternoon when, overcome by dizziness, I had to take to my bed, I knew something was seriously wrong.

I happened to be on the island of Maui at the time and was fortunate to find a doctor who took a proper history. He asked me if I was under stress.  At first I laughed at the idea that I could be stressed out. From the outside looking in, I had it made: living surrounded by nature, the ocean at my front door, surfing, eating a diet full of organic whole foods. But when pressed, I had to admit I was still a total stress monkey. “Sounds like adrenal gland fatigue,” he said confidently.

I’d heard of the adrenal glands and knew that they had something to do with the fight or flight response and the release of adrenaline. Then he pointed out that adrenal gland fatigue often results from the accumulation of stress over years. “Did you have a high stress job or lifestyle before you moved to Mexico?” he asked. I laughed recalling the decade I spent in an unhappy marriage, masochistically chasing after scientific accolades and suffered from severe insomnia. He nodded and asserted that this disease was the overdue payment for my previously unsustainable lifestyle.

A blood test confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis. Fortunately, my adrenal gland activity was depressed, but not stopped and with low level hormone replacement, dietary changes including cutting all caffeine, limiting sugar and alcohol, practicing a simple diet called food combining, I began to feel better. Nevertheless, I still feel wiped out if I do too much, stay up too late or party too much. Like all things in life it’s a balancing act.

Looking back on those years of hard work I wonder if there was anyone who could have convinced me that it wasn’t worth the long-term damage I was doing to my health. In North America we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that this is the normal path of a well-adjusted productive member of society (emphasis on productive). The stigma attached to taking a non-traditional path and doing what we love, instead of what earns us a big paycheck – not that these things are mutually exclusive – is substantial.

I still struggle periodically with my decision to step off the work wheel and wonder if I will regret not dedicating myself to something “more significant.” But then I remember that had I not left the rat race to follow my dream of learning to surf, I never would have had the time and opportunity to start writing. In a classic example of cosmic reinforcement, one passion has led me to another.

But I know one thing for certain.  Be it as scientist or a writer, I will never again be a 70-hour-a-week workaholic. Life’s just too short and the waves too much fun!

Dawn Pier is a formerly landlocked Canadian who is a surfer, writer, environmental biologist, and universal truth seeker (not necessarily in that order). Currently, she divides her time between Baja Mexico and the SF Bay Area, writing her memoir filled with adventures in conservation, love, and life off the grid in a tiny Mexican village. She publishes a personal blog and is the East Cape amiga for a new website Baja.com.