Stress Throwing You Off Track?

I recently conducted a workshop for business leaders focused on stress and the impact it has on collaboration. As part of the workshop, everyone participated in a short simulation. It involved 15 people working together under extremely tight time constraints. When the simulation came to an end, and the team fell short of achieving their goal, the group unanimously explained, “We didn’t have enough time!”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? A day doesn’t go by where I don’t feel pressed for time. I end up packing in way more than I should, and I eventually feel overwhelmed, distracted, and stretched too thin.


Josh Freedman has a lot to say about this in his article, Stress is Killing Me. Time for Emotional Intelligence? It becomes difficult to focus on a solution when we are pressed for time. The additional pressure ignites a myriad of thoughts and feelings.

Thoughts: I’m never going to solve this. There’s not enough time. Everyone is in my way. Get out of my way. I’m so sick of doing this.

Feelings: Frustrated. Annoyed. Perplexed. Anxious. Defeated. Overwhelmed.

While some stress can actually be helpful, stress becomes toxic when you enter into a stress cycle with no plan or awareness on how to get out. 

The Stress Cycle

There are days when I can get completely caught up in this stress cycle. I find myself saying, “If I can just get through these next couple of days, I’ll have more time for….” 

And then I sit in my urgent focused state, shutting out the world around me and feeling disconnected. I don’t think my reaction to stress is that uncommon. And this is the problem.

The more stress we experience, the more we detach from the people around us. The very people we need most in these stressful situations. 

I love Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s TED TALK on the topic. She recommends perceiving stress as positive and encourages reaching out to others as a mechanism for stress reduction.

Back to the Workshop

As we debriefed the workshop activity it became clear to everyone, the lack of time created a sense of stress. This stress resulted in:

  • People jumping in to try to solve the problem
  • Some worked in groups of two
  • Others worked in groups of three
  • Others on their own
  • Some just checked out
  • No one worked together as a team, leveraging each others’ strengths and sharing the burden of coming up with a solution

And as a result:

  • Communication shut down
  • Planning was non-existent
  • And random solutions were being tossed out with no success

Collaboration requires you to slow down, seek multiple perspectives and ideas to determine the best possible solution.


During the workshop, participants completed a Six Seconds Brain Brief Profile to increase their self-awareness. The profile helped them to understand:

  • Where they prefer to focus (facts or feelings)
  • How they appraise situations (assess risk or assess opportunity)
  • How they get energy (pragmatic action or long-term possibilities)

Our simulation helped to point out that emotions drive people, and people drive performance. Here are just a few of the observed actions that resulted from different feelings

Just how self-aware are you and why does it matter!? Take this short quiz and find out!

It seems no matter where you look, topics like mindfulness, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and self-leadership are everywhere. So what do they have in common?

Focusing inward!
Whether you are at home, at work, or at school, self-awareness is a critical skill to being effective and establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.
Take this short quiz to see where you rate when it comes to self-awareness.
Self-awareness quiz
SCORING: a= 0 points, b=3 points, c=5 points.
32-40: Wow! You have this self-awareness thing down!
24-32: Nice! A little fine tuning and you are all set.
15-23: Ok, so you have a little work to do, but you are on the right path.
0-14: You might want to buy a mirror and a tape recorder. : )


What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness helps us to connect with others, achieve our goals, and manage our health and wellness. So what exactly is it?
Self-awareness is your ability to look inward and recognize your thoughts, feelings, motives, and drivers.

Why is Self-Awareness Important?

When your self-awareness is high, you are able to turn inward and:

  • Navigate your emotions
  • Apply consequential thinking
  • Empathize with others
  • Engage and connect with others in a meaningful way
  • Predict your own and others’ responses
If you do not have high self-awareness, well, let’s just say, people notice!
If you find yourself saying any of these things, then you probably need more self-awareness.

1. Well, that wasn’t my intention!

Communication involves a sender and a receiver. If your receiver is often misinterpreting your message, try looking inward at what and how you are communicating. What is at the heart of your message? What is your motivation for the words you chose?


2. I was just trying to help.

Being self-aware enables you to flex your style based on the person and situation. Giving someone advice in the midst of a big failure is not usually the most helpful thing you can do at the time. Connecting with that person on an emotional level and considering what they may be feeling and experiencing in the moment, on the other hand can be helpful.


3. What is her problem?

Well, if you find yourself asking that question more often then not, then there is a good chance that the answer may be YOU! In a challenging situation, consider how you might be adding to the stress.

4. I don’t know why I said that!

We have all been there. In the heat of the moment, you snap and you say something hurtful and devaluing. You may regret it instantly, or several hours later, but it’s one of those times where you wish you can hit the REWIND button and go back. Unfortunately, you can’t. Turning inward and recognizing the triggers that result in a heat of the moment reaction, will help you to pause in the future and choose an intentional and more purposeful response.


5. I don’t know why you would react like that?

Being self-aware helps you to recognize your own triggers, which in turn, helps you to recognize potential triggers in others.


6. That’s not what I said!

Well maybe not, but that’s how it came across and was received. Your body language can reveal your emotions and thoughts, which largely determines how the message is interpreted. In fact, according to Albert Mehrabian, (researcher of body language,1950s) a message is received based on:
7% words
38% tone of voice
55% nonverbal


7. I had no idea that I do that!

We all have patterns that we don’t even realize exist. When you feel insecure, you jump into teacher mode. When you feel challenged, you get louder. When you are nervous, you talk more and listen less. What patterns do you have? How are they impacting you and others?

8. I was just joking!

You are in a situation. Something happens, and your mind is racing with all kinds of thoughts. Before you know it, those thoughts are coming out of your mouth. You are fine with it, after all it’s the truth. And then you realize that you have offended the person on the other side of the table. Low self-awareness may result in a quick “I was just joking!” or “Gosh you are so sensitive.” 

Developing Your Self-Awareness

The first step in developing greater self-awareness is to recognize you need it! Enlist a friend, colleague, or family member that you trust, respect, and ask them to help you see your blindspots. What do they see in you and that you don’t. What do they notice about your communication style? How does that change when you are under pressure? What else do they notice?
Turning inward and developing your self awareness can be a very powerful thing. To learn more about self-awareness, consider taking a Brain Brief Profile and gain new insights that will impact your relationships, effectiveness, and well-being.


Kelli is the founder of EQuip Studios. She is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation and a Master Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. EQuip Studios partners with individuals and organizations to unlock infinite possibility.

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