It’s one of those days when everything seems to go wrong—at least all the little things.

These are the days that bring out the worst in me.

I prefer to deal with big problems.

When the world is falling apart, I’m calm, collected, and creative.  

But if the printer breaks just when I need it, after morning traffic made me 25 minutes late, and the email responses I need haven’t come through, and my computer freezes just as I finish an important document … I become irritable, frustrated, and critical of those around me.

Intellectually, I know these problems will be forgotten by the end of the day (if not within minutes) but I still get frustrated.

In the big picture, I know these are minor issues. So, what creates my shortsighted reactions?

Frustration often comes as an automatic reaction—a reflex. I don’t consciously make the decision to be frustrated, it just happens.

To change this reflex, I have to train my brain to take a different approach.

Stress management is a crucial element of emotional intelligence. 

When stress increases, my brain becomes less creative. It’s more difficult for me to manage problems effectively. My ability to lead with focus and intention decreases and my team doesn’t get the direction they need.

Learning to tolerate higher levels of stress and maintain a calm presence means my leadership and effectiveness dramatically improves.

Here are five steps to begin increasing stress tolerance:

  1. Pause. Stopping, even if just for a few seconds, creates space for objectivity. Those initial reflexes often create bigger issues; pausing prevents undesired knee-jerk reactions.
  2. Breathe. Taking a few deep breaths is good for the brain. When we are stressed, our heart rate, blood pressure and respirations increase. Often we hold our breath without even realizing it. Deep breaths help slow the heart rate and provide much-needed oxygen to the brain. Even a minor shift toward calmness increases creative thinking.
  3. Articulate the problem. I can’t fix a problem I can’t articulate, so putting the issue into words is a crucial step toward solving it. Stating the problem out loud also helps clarify what is within my control and what isn’t.
  4. Ask for help. When the issue is small I tend to think I should be able to handle it myself.  I worry I’ll lose credibility if I ask for help. My effectiveness as a leader, however, is more important than a temporarily bruised ego. Determine who has the skills to fix the problem and employ their assistance.
  5. Consider the big picture. While this may sound cliché, another perspective goes a long way toward dealing calmly and successfully with the current issue. Remember that the small dilemma will likely be forgotten or laughed about in just a few days time.

This approach takes practice. Like learning any new skill, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes. 

Create a reminder to pause—something to remind you of these steps in the midst of frustration.

For example, one of my clients wrote the five steps on a sticky note and posted it on the edge of his computer monitor.

Determine what will work best for you and get a reminder in place.

Practise the five steps until your focus during small problems is as calm and creative as your response to significant ones.

Share your favorite method for managing stress in the comment section below.