A: Congratulations for noticing and wanting to stop the cycle. Try doing what I call “issuing a storm warning”alert your kids when you sense that you’re about to lose your patience. This gives them time to alter their behavior, and it’s useful for you, too: Hearing yourself say out loud that you’re at the end of your rope creates awareness.
And the more you’re tuned in to the stress you’re feeling, the better you’re able to interrupt the anger cycle. How do you do that? Take three or four deep breaths and relax all of your muscles as much as possible. This is highly effective because you can’t be stressed and relaxed simultaneously.
If that doesn’t work, announce that you’re leaving the room and will return when you’re calm. It usually takes 30 minutes for stress hormones to leave your body once you’ve lost your temper and the fight-or-flight mechanism has fully kicked in. But even a few minutes alone can help you short-circuit a blowup and prevent you from doing or saying things you’ll later regret. If you curb your anger once, you will feel confident that you can do it again in the future. And having that control will greatly ease your overall stress level, making you less likely to erupt.
Q: I get so freaked out when I think of all the work I have to do that I end up doing nothing at all, and then I feel even worse. How do I break the cycle?
A: Try using tunnel vision. What’s hard about your situation is that you’re looking at all the things you have to doclean the messy kitchen, write that overdue report, read all 200 e-mails crowding your in-boxas a whole. This, of course, feels overwhelming. Instead, start small. Ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do right now?”
The more stressed you feel, the smaller the thing should be. It doesn’t matter which part of your to-do list you tackle firstone drawer, one pile, one phone call. Just do it. When you finish, ask yourself the same question again.
I learned how to do this while writing my new book AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For on a very tight deadline. If I focused on the fact that I had to write an entire book in eight weeks, I’d just panic.
Instead, I told myself I had to write an essay a day, which I easily did. This technique has a name: kaizen. It’s a Japanese management approach that has led to Toyota being the number-one car company in the world. It helped meand it can help you, too.