Advice clinic: Keep calm and carry on

For those of us old enough to remember the television series Dad’s Army “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring” was one of Corporal Jones’ main lines, and one of my favourites. But how do we keep calm in a crisis? And how do we deal with the stressful things that come our way?

Stress is a tricky thing and it means different things to different people. And what is motivating to one person can be stressful to someone else. Put simply, stress is an emotional reaction to physical, psychological or emotional demands that are placed on us.

There are so many symptoms for stress; if you did a search on the internet you would get quite a long list such as: physical symptoms, behavioural, emotional and cognitive.

Symptoms can include increased irritability, severe mood changes, lack of concentration, black and white thinking, difficulty making decisions, being argumentative, losing your temper quickly, feeling overwhelmed, catching frequent colds or illness, trouble sleeping, tiredness, low or depressed mood, lack of energy, headaches, muscle tension, trouble relaxing, using stimulants such as alcohol to wind down… and the list goes on.

There are so many things in fact, that no matter how fantastic things are at the moment, most of us would be able to put our hand up to experiencing several of them right now, but that doesn’t mean that we are stressed.

So what happens to us in times of stress? 

The stress response triggers adrenaline in the body, it is what gets us going, it stimulates the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reaction in the body. Appropriate all those years ago maybe when we were running across the fields searching for food being chased by a rather large animal, but not so appropriate now. 

It can actually lead us to do or say all sorts of things as a reaction to what is going on around us.
The stress response is basically there to keep us safe, to protect us and to stir us into an appropriate reaction.

If you feel like you might be experiencing high levels of stress in your life at the moment, the key is to understand what stress feels like for you when things start to tip into ‘overwhelm’ or you are feeling a little bit out of control. 

Understand what that feels like to you and the trick to that is getting out of your head and recognising the feelings in your body.  Not easily done when we spend so much time in our heads, particularly if you are in a very busy period in your life with lots of demands being placed on you. Recognise the symptoms and how you are feeling before they get to a level where it is all too much.

If the stress response triggers adrenaline, it is the adrenaline that gets us going and it is the adrenaline that gets and keeps us motivated to do things.

So, if we look at it a different way, stress is actually motivation!

Things only become stressful when we exceed our personal capacity to be able to cope.
So, how do we learn how to cope? The key to boosting our resilience levels is to get regular exercise, have a healthy diet, including drinking plenty of water and to keep our mind in a calm place.


Relaxation; some of us are good at it some of us not. I know several people who just ‘don’t do’ relaxation.

It is an essential element in building up our resilience levels and our capacity for coping, for managing the stresses and strains in our lives.

Finding yourself with nothing to do or an opportunity to sit quietly is a fantastic thing to experience. If that makes you feel bored then sit with the boredom. I challenge you to not fill the time with something. To just sit and experience the boredom! You might be surprised, out of boredom can come breakthroughs. Sitting in boredom, without things planned in, can allow the space in our lives for new things to enter.


We all have to breathe, it’s what keeps us alive! But surprise, surprise most of us don’t do it properly.  Most of us keep our breathing at the top of our chest as a shallow breath. Particularly when we are busy, anxious or just caught up in ‘stuff’ we take shallow breaths. 

Learning how to make full use of the breath is an incredible way, not only to relax, but also to boost your energy levels, control your emotions and achieve a sense of calm and peacefulness.
So try a different approach, try a deeper breath and see how you feel.

There are a few parts to this that build up – give it a go.

a) Full belly breathing

Place your hands on your belly and now take a deep breath in through the nose.  As you breath in  feel your belly rise and as you breath out  through your mouth your belly will go back down.

By doing this you are opening up your diaphragm and allowing all your organs to get a lovely stretch and loads more oxygen.  Which means an increase in energy and vitality.

b) 7:11 breathing is a great way to relax to calm the nerves before a meeting, presentation, interview, or in a crisis.

Breath in for 7 and out for 11 – easy!  Added benefits are that counting distracts your mind away from its problems.


Some people don’t rate visualisation  but many people do.

Most athletes and top sports people are very open about how they practise their events in their mind and how they keep practising by visualising seeing themselves doing well, getting better, stronger and winning.

Visualisation is a great way to support yourself in bringing things into reality and coping with stress.  Start by picturing what you want to achieve then see yourself achieving it.

Seeing yourself achieving things, even in your minds eye, will boost your motivation and your brain will record and recollect it and you will be improving your belief in yourself.

Janice Haddon has over 25 years’ experience in strategic and
operational Human Resources and management consultancy. Working across a
range of sectors and with start-ups to top 20 companies, Haddon is a
qualified coach and has a passion for integrating performance, personal
positivity and wellbeing into the work place. This was first published in the February 2013 edition of CN. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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