How to Actually Keep Calm and Carry On

The practice of self-development requires constant engagement with stress. Think about what it takes to build muscle, for instance: you literally rip and tear muscle tissue, in order to build new layers of muscle tissue atop it. It might seem counter-intuitive, but that’s precisely how skills are developed: by voluntarily doing difficult things, such as studying, networking, practising, etc.

Summer business school at the Toronto Business Academy isn’t easy, by any means. But it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a long-term investment in yourself. Ensuring you can withstand the stress of classes, assignments, and generally being outside of your comfort zone requires an understanding of how to remain calm in the face of challenge.

Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmartand author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and, recently wrote a piece on how successful people stay calm. The key takeaways are to:

Appreciate What You Have – Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%.

Avoid Asking “What If?” – The more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control.

Stay Positive – Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free.

Disconnect – When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline gives your body a break from a constant source of stress.

Limit Your Caffeine Intake – The fight-or-flight mechanism [amplified by caffeine] sidesteps rational thinking in favour of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email.

Sleep – When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed.

Squash Negative Self-Talk – When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, “It’s time to stop and write them down.” Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking.

Reframe Your Perspective – You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective.

Breathe – The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back.

Use Your Support System – Recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed.

Hormesis is the term used to describe generally positive biological responses to low exposures of toxins and other stressors (which if administered in large doses, would prove dangerous). In order to break plateaus and grow as creative professionals, we must intermittently stress ourselves out. But that should never come at the cost of burning out. Working hard on challenging projects, in conjunction with Bradberry’s principles, will yield creative and professional hormesis.

Read Bradberry’s full article on how to keep calm and carry on over at Forbes.