Does Stress Bring Out Your Best or Your Worst?



Stress.  It’s a daily part of life. Not all stress is bad. Not everyone reacts the same to stress. I find that stressful situations often bring out the best or the worst in people.  I have seen the best and the worst in others during especially challenging times. But rather than point the finger, I want to take time to reflect on my own actions.  I know that as a leader, stress has brought out both the best and the worst in me at various times throughout my life.

When I have been stressed out and overwhelmed in the past, I have been known to snap at people. I have worked hard to address this, so that I don’t take my stress out on others.

As a leader, I have allowed stress to affect my health and well-being. I continue to work hard on this one, so that I maintain a healthier lifestyle and can handle stress better.

I have also found myself listening a lot during stressful times. When a large issue impacts a staff/district, you can learn a lot by listening. Often times, people need to vent, but they also need to be heard. They want to be a part of the planning, the problem-solving, and the ultimate solution, especially if they will be directly impacted.

When I am feeling stress and know that others are as well, I have recently taken to writing a quick email or text to individuals to let them know I care about them, I appreciate them, or to wish them a good day. This simple act of kindness goes a long way to spread good will, to enhance personal relationships, and it feels good to make someone else smile.

If stress can bring out my best or my worst, I want to cultivate habits that will lead me towards my best self in trying times. Some of the habits I have used over the years to learn to adapt to stress include:

  • Meditation/ Mindfulness/ Breathing – Any version of this, often with the help of an app like Headspace, can calm me down or ground me in the present.
  • Stepping Away – If I know I am stressed and have the potential to take it out on others, I will consciously step away. This might involve closing my office door for a little while. It might mean going for a walk, taking a drive, listening to music, or taking a breathing break. By stepping away, I can limit my worst self negatively impacting others.
  • Writing– I reflect best when I take time to write about a situation. If I am stressed, I go to my journal to process my thoughts. I can take my stress out there without harming anyone around me. It’s possible that this blog post began in a journal entry!
  • Friend Support – Calling a friend, scheduling a walking date or a happy hour, or making plans to do something fun can often distract me and lift my spirits.
  • Problem-solving – Sometimes the stress needs to be addressed. I find that if I make a plan for solving the immediate problem, I feel better. I love to make lists and check off completed items, so this fuels my Type A personality!
  • Collaboration – Two heads are often better than one. When I find myself working through a stressful situation, I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with someone else on the issue.

Some behaviors I have witnessed in others (or in myself in the past) that bring out the worst in people:

  • Blaming others/ Pointing the finger/ Throwing someone else under the bus
  • Spreading rumors
  • Generating negativity
  • Taking no responsibility
  • Bringing past grievances into current problems
  • Inability to listen or acknowledge another point of view

I have had the privilege to work with some amazing leaders. Some of my leadership mentors model a positive way to lead through stressful times. The traits and actions I have observed in them include:

  • Taking responsibility
  • Communicating clearly and effectively
  • Addressing rumors and misinformation head-on
  • Acknowledging the challenges
  • Staying positive
  • Supporting others
  • Listening with intent

These are some of my thoughts on this topic today. I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to ensure that stress brings out your best and not your worst? What behaviors do you work to avoid during stressful situations?


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
This entry was posted in Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Does Stress Bring Out Your Best or Your Worst?

  1. gsnprog says:

    Most times I associate stress with something that I’m not comfortable doing. However, it has helped me a lot of times to learn from experience and basically grow as a person. Loved this one.

  2. Pingback: Blogging Trends in 2020 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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