Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Five Ways to Stay Positive When Stress Factors are High


Lots of team members say they are stressed right now.  It seems to be an easy default and too often, an excuse for not getting work accomplished.

What can we do to stay positive and focus when we are surrounded by stress?

  1. Don’t admit defeat. Don’t decide that you are overwhelmed. It is so easy for people to say, “I’m overwhelmed during this time of crisis, challenge, or change.”  “I am so busy and people keep wanting my solutions.”  “I cannot get everything accomplished.”

Stop being defeatist.  Stop giving yourself reasons why you are watching TV instead of working in the middle of the day.

The problem magnifies when you convince yourself that you are overwhelmed.  Your brain and your body believe you.

Note: this is not the same as finding help for a mental health crisis – that is different.  This is about not feeding negative thoughts into your brain.

Instead, of telling yourself: “I am so overwhelmed, so I am not even going to try”
“I have as much time in the day as Albert Einstein did. What am I going to do with this time?”

“I have never been more knowledgeable or prepared for a crisis, challenge, or change. I know more now than I ever have. How can I best handle this situation?”

“I can handle everything when I map it out and deal with each piece of the situation. How can I break this down into action steps?”

“If not me, who? If not now, when?”

  1. Know when to vent and when to act. Stress levels are high. People are impatient.  Don’t contribute to other people’s stress levels by complaining.  Your friends are those people you can call when you are having a rough day.  Your real friends will not just listen, they will help you brainstorm on solutions when it is time to make your list of action steps.

I have an amazing mastermind group who listen when I get frustrated and then prod me to move forward when it is time to act.  They do not let me wallow in self pity or other defeatist, non-productive emotions.

  1. Control what you can control. We cannot control a lot of what is going on in the world. Watching the news and being barraged with bad news contributes to depression and anxiety. It gives us negative emotions, and contributes to the feelings of helplessness.  We cannot fix most of what we see on the news.  We often cannot control what is happening around us.

To visualize this, I draw a bubble inside a bigger bubble. Inside the small bubble is what I can control, and I label it Things I Can Control. Inside the larger bubble are the things I cannot control, and I label it Things I Cannot Control. For a helpful exercise with your teams, have them draw the bubbles and make lists of the things that stress them and delineate what they cannot control as well as the things they can control.  Then help people come to a decision to focus on the aspects that we can control.

4. Remove yourself from the situation. Ask yourself, if I was seeing this situation for the first time, would I react this way? Some of our stressors are stressors because they are hot buttons for us. I am on planes a lot, and when people listen to music or watch movies with the sound on and no earphones, I am triggered.  I view this behavior as annoying and rude.  However, when I remove myself from the situation, and pretend that this is the first time I have seen that behavior, I might think, “Oh, maybe they don’t realize we can all hear that movie” or “Maybe they don’t know that their earbuds are not working.”

 5. Change just for today.  Decide to handle everything with cheerful calm.  Just for today, make the conscious choice to stay positive despite everything going on.  It might just spread to tomorrow as well. 


  1. Beth

    Thank you for this today! Becoming aware of self and surroundings. Cheerful calm is our choice!
    Stresses tend to be mounting daily in this world, These are helping myself and my team!

    • Mary Kelly

      Thank YOU, Beth, for this lovely comment.

  2. Christina Pelton WCDA

    Thanks for your wonderful newsletters. I hope you get to come back to Wyoming again some time.

    • Mary Kelly

      I would love that, Christina! Thank you. 🙂

  3. Kimberly Larkin-Ritter

    Great share! I will certainly present this to my team. Great seeing you in San Diego. You are always a pleasure to see.

    • Mary Kelly

      You just made my day! Thank you. 🙂


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