Dale Carnegie of Orange County | Improving Leadership Effectiveness

Facing the Work Stress Zoo

Visiting animals may be fun at the zoo, but those same animals when stressed in the wild are scary. Most of us have seen videos of animals attacking people when they “get too close.” These animals are typically responding to the “fight-or-flight” physiological reaction that occurs in the brain when there is a perceived harmful attack or threat to their survival.

The unfortunate reality is these “animals” exist around us everyday at work! When people get stressed, anxious or upset, their brains kick in the old fight-or-flight response and they react in some of the same ways that animals do.

Perhaps you have seen some of these animals at work:

  • The Gorilla – walks around beating his chest when upset
  • The Ostrich – puts her head in the sand to ignore a problem
  • The Rabbit – quits or runs away every time he does not like something at work
  • The Snake – curls up and strikes at people every time she gets mad
  • The Bear – wants to fight every time something doesn’t go his way
  • The Hyena – laughs and says sarcastic comments whenever something makes her uncomfortable

The fight-or-flight response is there for a reason. It can be lifesaving when there is a real physical threat. However, many people are a little too sensitive. In other words, their fight-or-flight responses are triggered by minor things that would be ignored by most people.

It’s exhausting to spend time around people that might be set off by minor work pressure, deadlines or a difference in opinion.

What kind of animal most resembles the way you deal with stress? Without realizing it, have you let stress impact you so that you have become the one that people are trying to avoid? If yes, there are some things you can do to prevent your fight-or-flight response from overreacting to the minor stresses that you face every day.

Here are ten tips to tame your stress animal:

  1. Create a vision and set goals for yourself. It helps to have clear direction in your life.
  2. Exercise regularly. This gives you an outlet to relieve stress.
  3. Rest and get plenty of sleep. Usually 7 or 8 hours per day is ideal for the average person.
  4. Train yourself to schedule time for hobbies that help you relax mentally and physically creating work life balance/integration.
  5. Make a priority list each day. Try to follow the list so you can check off the things that must get done before they build up and overwhelm you.
  6. Celebrate the small victories as you check things off your list. Positive reinforcement can quickly make you feel a sense of pride and reinforce your success.
  7. Learn to say, “No” to the things that don’t align with the goals you need to accomplish. This keeps you focused and sidesteps the beast mode that causes people to attack.
  8. Laugh as often as possible (not at others). There are multiple studies on how laughter can reduce stress and add years to your life.
  9. Chat with friends. Research has shown that having people you can talk to about stressful situations in your life, like family and friends, can help reduce stress.
  10. Focus on improving things within your control. This is more effective than worrying about everything. Learn to identify what is out of your control and don’t stress over it.

Tame your stress animal and leave it locked in the cage. This will allow you to be more approachable and avoid going into beast mode and attacking the people who are “close” in your life.


Steve VerBurg
Dale Carnegie of Orange County

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