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Fast Company: 12 women executives on how they keep their cool in high stress

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Cohesive companies still experience periods of disarray, where office politics, client relations, and employee happiness falter. During these times of turbulence, it’s the top leadership who serves as an example for employees in order to help keep things running smoothly.

These 12 female executives from Uber to KIND snacks and more have mastered the most professional and effective ways to deal with high-stress periods and environments. Not only do they keep their cool, but they have developed coping and problem-solving techniques that help keep the business moving forward, even in chaos.

Here is their best advice:


Whether it’s your best friend who understands all of your idiosyncrasies or a trusted mentor who cheers for your career nearly as much as you do, having a patient ear to bounce ideas off is essential for juggling anxiety in the workplace. As Uber’s regional manager for the United States and Canada, Meghan Joyce says there’s nothing that replaces a confidante. “Having a buddy who you can trust, who understands what you’re going through, will provide you with a safe space, a sounding board, and good advice when you need it most. Work–and life!–can get super stressful, especially as a leader, and my friends and loved ones, both in and out of work, have gotten me through,” she says.


Especially when you’re being pinged in every direction—from your kid’s school to your assistant, and the list goes on—working at a rapid speed seems like the only solution to checking off every last box. But as chief financial officer of XO Group, Gillian Munson says, she’s her most successful—and calmest—when she purposefully pauses. This helps decrease arguments, tension, and of course, angst. “Stressful situations typically involve interpersonal relationships—trying to communicate, trying to get people to follow you, and trying to solve hard problems as a team. Solid interpersonal communication is made worse by rushing. Slow down, try to internalize what all the players involved are trying to accomplish—this perspective always helps me,” she says.


Especially if you’re a parent—or you’ve been with a romantic partner for a long time—you know tantrums and arguments are a normal part of life. To keep the peace (and your sanity), you’ve probably employed the tried-and-true tactic of counting to 10. Senior vice president of communications and custom experience at Mattress Firm Sunni Goodman abides by the same logic in her position. Especially in the midst of a crisis situation, she says she makes a conscious effort to step away to clear her mind, have a good laugh, and then return with a renewed focus. “High-stress moments can bring out the worst in some people, and it can be easy to overextend or respond aggressively. Stepping away for a moment helps bring a fresh perspective and allows me to provide a proportional response to the situation at hand,” she says.


Maintaining focus, building strong friendships, and capitalizing on day-to-day happiness depends much on your mind-set. When you are generally positive, the rest of your life will follow suit, including the way you’re perceived during high-stress situations. As the chief of staff to the founder and CEO and the senior vice president of development for KIND snacks, Elle Lanning, says, it’s important to operate under the assumption that everyone is kind-spirited, even if, well, they’re not. “Reminding yourself that folks have the best intentions can help take the stress and emotion out of any situation because, at the end of the day, everyone is showing up with the same goals in mind,” she says.


Sure, yoga, meditation, exercise are all healthy ways to decrease stress, but for president of Sunrise Banks Nichol Beckstrand, a stiff cocktail also hits the spot. In addition to helping her decompress at the end of the week, it also improves her work/life balance, too. “To keep stress from interfering with relationships, my husband and I have a standing cocktail date every week. We don’t let it slide, because having fun together is our priority,” she says.


For many people, it’s not actually having a burgeoning agenda that makes their heart race, but rather, having endless tasks floating around in their brain. For Lana Ellie, the CEO of Floom, working in the corporate world for decades at companies like Burberry taught her the vast importance of list making. Not only helpful in periods of high stress, this act takes away the guesswork that comes with turmoil. “I found that listing out my work items and planning them in to tasks with estimated time attached helped me understand what the job really entailed, and as a result, limited how much I stressed over it,” she explains. “I find stress most commonly happens when there’s a big task or several tasks ahead, and you’ve not yet allowed the time to plan what’s involved, so it can seem more daunting than it really is,” she says.


Consider the last time you had a complete meltdown: Were you upset about what you knew—or what you didn’t know? For NFL agent and general counsel at Roc Nation Sports Kim Miale, addressing what she can solve–instead of worrying about the unknowns–helps her to focus and conquer. “Prioritize what needs to be done and stick to the plan. Do not waste time worrying over things you cannot control. Focus on what you can do and execute,” she shares.


As an introvert, Dorothy Dowling, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Best Western Hotels & Resorts, taking alone time to recharge is paramount for her performance. When she has the space to collect and catch her breath, she’s able to listen more effectively, making her a stronger, more diplomatic leader. “Once I fully understand the problem and the timetable required to solve the problem, I appreciate the opportunity to think out loud–either with myself or members of the team. Brainstorming aloud helps to define the problem/project scope, the schedule and critical next steps,” she says.


As any executive knows, success isn’t reaped when they meet their personal goals, but when each member of their teams valued as well. During times of discord, it can be easy to point fingers when frustrations and debates begin to fester. Senior vice president of operations for Extended Stay America Victoria Plummer matches her mentality toward customers to her employees but prioritizing respect, always. “Value those who you work with and always be respectful. Focus on common ground you can agree on and don’t be afraid to table the rest for later. It’s extremely difficult for a stressful environment to exist for long in a workplace where everyone understands their role and no one feels the need to debate a point,” she says.


Three small blinking dots, blue bubbles, green chat boxes and email sign-offs can all be sources of discomfort and perplexity when they’re taken out of context. While the majority of corporate communication is transcribed digitally these days, there is still no replacement for face-to-face delivery. When chief creative director and president of Multimedia Plus Jodi Harouche senses wires crossing, she sets up a meeting ASAP. “Pick up the phone or meet with the person. It might seem old fashioned, but it shows that you feel that the person is important, and you can better gauge body language,” she says.


For cofounder and research director of Y Studios, Lisa Yong, Zumba is a non-negotiable placeholder in her calendar. “Zumba is my jam. It’s my happy dance hour that I can be silly, shake off the work, and just have fun. It puts the bounce back in my step and I’m ready for anything again,” she shares. The same benefits of sweaty endorphins can be derived from running, indoor cycling, yoga—you name it. The point is, when in doubt, get moving.


A proposal is late, your colleague is dropping the ball, and you’re leaving for vacation in a week. Life is often either moving glacially or at rapid speed, making hiccups that are much more stressful to navigate. Instead of hyperfocusing on the derailment, the CEO of Saban Brands Janet Hsu zeroes in on her problem-solving skills. “When you can frame stressful moments as realistic challenges with feasible solutions, you can help keep yourself and your team focused on acting toward achievable next steps. Ultimately, our days are filled with a host of issues, but it is how you focus your energy that really matters. Try to take a breath and shift your outlook that can help lead to positive outcomes,” she says.

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