Back to work! Or maybe you never stopped working over the holidays and it’s been extra stressful due to the labor shortage and COVID? As recently reported in the New York Times, nerves are frayed and everyone is frustrated, making even the most mundane interactions possible minefields and sitting on the front line has never been more challenging. With stress levels off the charts, as (hopefully) businesses jolt back to life this month, we wanted to arm you with some strategies for calming down.
Pounding heart, feeling like you can’t catch your breath, becoming suddenly red-faced, or sweaty, the rush of adrenaline is meant to preserve us as our body’s “flight or fight” response. According to Harvard Medical School, the “stress response” can be brought on by any stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as an angry customer or important interview, or psychological, such as persistent worry about an ill family member or the constant uncertainty of living through a pandemic— can trigger a cascade of hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes.
We sourced 19 tips and techniques from you–the hertelier community–on the best ways to calm down whether in front of a customer, making a presentation, or gearing up for an interview:
Re-shape Your Reference
Starting with a tip from the great bard himself, Shakespeare, shared by Kelsey Johnson, Spa Retail Manager at Alisal Ranch in California, “‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,’ is from Hamlet…I try not to label events or occurrences as bad, just as things that need to be dealt with. It is a lot easier said than done.”
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” Hamlet
For Stephanie Coradin, leadership coach and mental health advocate, the first step is self-awareness, “it is extremely important to be able to identify when you are getting upset/frustrated. I help clients work on being more self-aware. Once you are able to identify this quickly it is always easier to manage the emotions.”
Many people wrote in suggesting focusing on your breath to calm down. Khim Neang, Spa Director at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, offered the following advice, “For me, it always comes back to breathwork. I remind myself to connect with my breath and focus on compassionate thoughts. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been using Mel Robbin’s “5 Seconds Rule” before a presentation. For anxiety, placing my hand on my heart and connecting to my breath has helped me a lot, especially during our busy time at the resort. These practices and reminders are a quick way to reset throughout the day.”
For something more detailed, Julie Allen, Lead Therapist at Hotel Bennett, Charleston, SC suggests the “Alternate Nostril Technique” of breathing. “This is a yogic breath control practice. Just a few cycles can calm your nervous system, reducing anxiety and engaging a feeling of relaxation.” Exhale fully one nostril at a time, by putting your thumb on either side of your nose, and inhaling through the opposite nostril. Repeat 10 times.
Meditation / Body Scan
Our bodies can house an amazing amount of unwanted stress, says Katya Campbell, lead yoga teacher at Mountain Trek for the past 20+ years in British Columbia. “We tend to collect stress like scars, that stay with us buried in us like stones collected in pockets.” She suggests doing a “Body Scan,” which is a type of meditation where you focus on different parts of your body.
"When I'm stressed, I step away and do a 5-10 minute guided meditation using the Insight Timer app," says Liz Martinez, who works in events for a cinema now, but worked for several years at Noble House Hotels and Resorts. She adds, “even though I work from home, I still have these moments and I need to step away from my computer for a meditation when I feel I’m getting overwhelmed.”
Living in the current state of COVID uncertainty is particularly hard on mental health, according to the Harvard Business Review, 57% of people are experiencing greater anxiety, and 53% of us are more emotionally exhausted, and practicing gratitude can help. “When we focus on what we feel grateful for––this could be as simple as our morning coffee, to something as deep as the touch of a grandchild––we turn on a light switch inside of ourselves. The light of gratitude transforms us from seeing the world as happening TO us, as happening FOR us,” says Katya Campbell of Mountain Trek. Practicing gratitude can be done in many ways, from keeping a journal to telling others what you are grateful for daily.
Take a Time Out
Sometimes the best way to calm down is to take a break. Joanne Taylor-Stagg, General Manager of The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, in London says, “If a situation is all getting a bit tense, I take a break. If I have called the meeting I’ll suggest ‘a comfort break’ so everyone gets a breather. If I am not in a position to call a time out for everyone, I still take one myself. If I can’t go for a break, I’ll get up and get a coffee at the back of the room, anything to change the environment slightly, take a deep breath, and go back to it.”
Crystals and a Mantra
Becky Leuluia, spa director at the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, advises: “Utilize a gemstone (such as Selenite, which is a cleansing/purifying protecting stone) and repeat a mantra – ‘As I face challenging situations, I work through them with great ease and success. I am purified. I am a gift. I am love. I am safe.” She has instituted these practices at the hotel’s new Tierra Luna Spa, where treatments incorporate healing crystals.
Maybe not the most obvious suggestion, but Tanya Vassell, director of Fern Tree, a Salamander Spa Half Moon, Montego Bay, Jamaica, swears by kegel exercises, which are specific for strengthening your pelvic floor. “When driving in traffic, standing in a bank line, listening to a longwinded customer, or enduring a poor service representative – practice kegel exercises– it changes the focus to a much more rewarding result!”
Cut Back on Caffeine
Cutting back on caffeine helps calm your nerves overall. Mary Dichard, a sales executive in various hospitality roles, shares, “ I used to drink four cups of coffee a day and was really high strung. I usually drink just one now…and I respond to things in a generally more calm manner. It has helped a lot.”
Take a Walk
Interestingly, men––we do have men in our hertelier community––suggested taking walks. Bill Rees, General Manager, Maui Seaside, says, “Getting out of the office and out of my head! I like to check in on my housekeepers, front desk, and maintenance people and walk the property a couple of times a day, which is also good for morale.” And Mark Ginna, a veteran hotel sales pro advises, “I’ve taken to doing long walks. I put my air pods in and walk between 3-5 miles daily. I try to do different routes. It’s a great way to clear your head and stay calm. It’s also a great way to lose weight!”
Have a Good Laugh
hertelier’s “Unpack It with Nancy,” columnist and marketing guru, Nancy Mendelson, says “Having a good laugh always helps me calm down. When I feel stressed and agitated, I watch reruns of The Graham Norton Show - especially episodes with Miriam Margolyes, although my most recent go-to stress-buster was a clip from the Golden Girls where Betty White talks about the Great Herring Wars. Laughing, for me, is the best medicine.” Meetings industry advisor, Joan Eisenstodt, likes to watch English comedies too, on BritBox, but also finds the mystery series help her unwind.
If none of the above have worked for you, take a page from Christina (Chris) Miranda’s book, to just be still. Chris is one of the principals of Redpoint, a marketing agency in New York City, who spends her days juggling clients and managing the business. When Chris is faced with stress or a problem, “I turn off all external input and force myself to be still and quiet for at least two hours. No phone, computer, TV, music…not even books. Nothing at all. Just sit quietly and think. It helps me sort through anything that’s gnawing at me or causing pressure and gives me the focus to organize my thoughts. It really gives my brain time to separate the emotion of how I’m feeling from the actions I need to take.”
Practice and Prepare (chocolate is good too)
”Practice, practice, practice any potentially stressful conversations or situations in advance as much as possible. I like to journal out my thoughts, what I think might happen, and what I want the end result to be. Then, before the conversation, take three deep breaths. And a tiny bite of dark chocolate usually helps too!” Abby Murtagh, General Manager, The Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort
Joanne Taylor-Stagg, General Manager, The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, echoes the preparation method, “I like to plan ahead and be organized. When I have a tough situation coming up, I’ll mentally prepare, perhaps it’s copious notes, a mental rehearsal or really focusing on the outcome I want/need.”
Be Kind, but Direct
Brenda Tamburo, a brand and communications executive, has worked in numerous customer-facing positions, drawing on those experiences, “When someone confronts me, I often directly ask the person getting flip, ‘how can I be of help to you in this situation?’ In my most authentic, dropped shoulder voice, which usually diffuses the situation.”
Prepping for an Interview
Lisa Rangel, resume and job search expert at Chameleon Resumes, has counseled many clients on how to stay calm during an interview. Her top tip: “I always suggest to imagine you are in your living room with the interviewer. What you would do conversationally to make them feel more comfortable? How you can make their job to get the info they need easier. The interviewer still may have control of the interview, but you have thought through what they might like to hear from you—which eases nerves all around.”
Dovetailing nicely is advice from Kathy Hubler, career coach and founder of Ladies Against the Grain, who gives all clients these three tips: “Practice, practice practice! This is the number one thing I tell people I’m working with for interview prep. Practicing means: 1) Writing out your answers to popular interview questions. 2) Reading your answers out loud so that you can hear what you are saying and then hone in on your answer until you come up with a strong, concise response. 3) Once you've honed in on your answers, then you start to practice the answers out loud, this time without reading what you’ve prepared. This helps you get the language and concepts down you are trying to convey so that your answers roll off the tongue easily. By practicing, you will know exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. You’ll have fewer pauses where you need to think of your answer and instead show that you are competent and confident in what you say you do.”
Another tip from Kathy is to overcome nerves with a confident mindset. She suggests watching the Ted Talk, by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, where Amy explains that no matter where you are in the world, whenever someone wins or is victorious, we all do the same thing: curl our hands up into fists and raise our arms up overhead (think of someone winning an Olympic medal or scoring a goal in soccer). Kathy says, “Practice your power pose!”
Pet your Pets!
Animals are nature's stress relievers, according to science, and Stacy Small, Founder/CEO of the Elite Travel Club, “I spend a LOT of time with my rescued dogs, now only 2 but I have had 2-3 for the past 20 years. They are the number one Rx to stress reduction, a few minutes sitting on the floor or couch with them or taking them out to play in my backyard really does wonders to push the stress aside.”
Interestingly, research showed that when conducting a task that’s stressful, people actually experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present. This may be due to the fact that pets don’t judge us; they just love us!
Patricia Palermo, a former flight attendant with Pan Am, is a top-selling broker with Corcoran in New York City. She has a personal checklist for living a calm and happier life, many of which have been covered in the article.