When a crisis hits your business, you have to put aside fear, anger, and anxiety to tackle it with level-headed leadership. That's a tall order when the stakes are high. But learning to stay calm in a crisis will inspire confidence among your employees and empower you to find effective solutions quickly.
In stressful times, most people either let negative feelings spiral out of control or push them under the rug, but neither method works. "The worst thing you can do is suppress your feelings," says Allison Troy, a psychologist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. who studies emotion regulation.
Still, that doesn't mean you should let them get the best of you. Strong leaders acknowledge their feelings and manage them without losing sight of what's most important -- fixing the problem, fast.
Related: How to Thrive During Tough Times
To stay calm in a crisis and lead your team through the fire, try these three strategies:
1. Look at the problem like an outsider.
The best way to diffuse an emotional situation is to get some distance from the problem. "Distance helps you see the big picture," says Ethan Kross, director of the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at University of Michigan. "You can think more clearly when you're not caught up in the details."
As a business leader, you will always be at the center of the problem, so you'll need to trick your brain into thinking you have more distance than you do. To do that, pretend that a peer has come to you for advice about the situation. What would you ask them? What advice would you give? How would you encourage them to handle it? By shifting your perspective, you'll see potential solutions with much more clarity.
2. Remember past obstacles you overcame.
When you run your own business, you'll inevitably face crises with serious consequences. That pressure can cause overwhelming anxiety, fueled by fear and self-doubt that compromise your ability to lead effectively.
"If you feel like you don't have the resources to handle the situation, convince yourself that you do," Troy says. Counter negative thoughts with specific memories of past crises that you overcame, and tell yourself that you can tackle this too. Like the pep talk a coach might give a football team at halftime, it's a reminder that you have the strength and skill to succeed.
Related: How to Raise Your Stress Tolerance
3. Take action.
In a crisis, there's no use dwelling on things you can't change -- that only increases anxiety. Focus on what you can do and get started. "Do something active [to solve the problem], even if you're not sure it will pay off," Troy says.
Start by identifying which parts of the problem you can control, then find one action you can take immediately. Even small actions, such as calling someone for advice, will make you feel productive and keep your anxiety in check.
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.