How to Cope With an Unpredictable Workday

These simple strategies can help you shift from anxiety to calm in a matter of minutes.

fizkes / Shutterstock
fizkes / Shutterstock

It’s a common scenario in these challenging times: You wake up knowing what your workday is going to look like, but it rapidly becomes clear that nothing will go according to plan. Whether you’re confronted by an “urgent” text informing you of last minute schedule changes, or a toddler tantrum as you’re about to join a team meeting on Zoom, the sheer unpredictability of life can be a major stressor. And when that kind of stress builds up, it can take a considerable toll on your health and mental well-being.

But there are effective ways to cope. While many situations at work and at home are out of our control, we can choose our response to them. As soon as things seem to be spiraling out of control, try these simple techniques to help you course-correct and stay calm.

Bring your attention to the here and now 

When you sense that all too familiar surge of dread or fear when your day goes awry, don’t be tempted to fight those emotions, because that can intensify them. The first thing to do is accept what you are feeling. Stay present for a moment. Authentically acknowledging your stress and concerns is the first step toward changing the experience inside you. 

Try the box breathing technique

A sudden change of plans can cause us to panic and forget to breathe deeply. When you’re stressed, try to find a quiet space and experiment with box breathing, which is a simple technique for relieving anxiety. Practiced by the Navy SEALS, it works by activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers stress. Just inhale for a count of four, hold the air in your lungs for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Science shows that box breathing — or simply breathing deeply for a few minutes — will help your anxiety dissipate, equipping you to deal with whatever the day brings.

Become a “sculptor of your own brain” by reframing 

Reframing is a powerful tool that allows you to replace any negative thoughts or worries with positive language inside your head. As Joey Hubbard, Thrive’s Chief Training Officer explains, when you reframe a negative thought, “your brain’s neuroplasticity starts to work in your favor. You become a sculptor of your own brain.” When a negative thought arrives, try closing your eyes and replacing it with a positive one. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t deal with this,” tell yourself, “I am strong and capable and I can handle anything.” Hold the positive thought in your mind for a full minute, and it will support you in viewing any situation — however stressful — from a place of optimism. 

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