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Tips on coping with stress in PR

13th February 2014


PR professionals need to change and adapt in the blink of an eye.

There is a sudden rush of demands within PR, which pushes PROs to adapt to a new situation instantly; this throws immense stress on them.

In 2013, Forbes magazine listed PR as among the top 5 most stressful jobs in the world on a list that included firelighters and policemen.

According to the article: “Though many people may picture PR execs wining and dining and having lunch with friends and connections around town, in fact they face almost constant rejection from people.”

What happens to you physically when you are under stress?

Let’s take a quick look at what happens to you when you are under pressure. Stress hurts your brain and activates your adrenal system. A protection system kicks into action that plunges you into the classic fight or flight response. Fight-or-flight responses depend upon reflex behaviour (which comes from the hindbrain) rather than conscious reasoning (forebrain). To facilitate this emergency response process, the stress hormones constrict the forebrain's blood vessels forcing more blood to the hind brain in support of reflex behaviour.

The constriction of blood vessels in the gut (that would account for that sinking feeling you have when a reporter suddenly cancels a one to one!) and forebrain during a stress response respectively represses growth and conscious reasoning (intelligence); often resulting in bad decisions under stress.

Stress for PR professionals shoots up when there is a strong client demand or media ask. At this time it is key to understand another person’s perspective. Especially during negotiations when people have different priorities and agendas and are dealing with multiple team expectations.

The problem is our brain thinks we are perfect and knows how to deal with everything. This same belief stops us from looking at other peoples perspectives. To understand others perspectives we need to listen actively rather than make assumptions that can cause conflicts.

But how?

Here are some simple things you can do to keep calm in the middle of a stressful situation and be effective. 

Handling stress

1. Listen to others discussing their experiences, be aware of their feelings and emotions and finally, their point of view.

2. When someone is emotional it’s difficult for them to overcome their feelings at that moment. This may result in a poor understanding of what is important. If we are empathetic we will be highly effective in imagining how others might be feeling. Step-out of prejudice of any kind and identify yourself with others’ experiences and vice versa and finally practice these skills daily.

3. While dealing with multiple expectations one needs to be more calm or mindful. Our mind is like any other part of our body, it helps us if we understand how it works and we can train it to work better. Mindfulness enhances stability and flexibility of mind which in turn enhances self-awareness and helps to act rather than react.

PR professionals can keep two points in mind:

Mind Stability­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ – Helps in maintaining the mind in an alert state rather than the extremes of a dullness or agitation.

Mind Flexibility – Increases the ability in focusing our mind on whatever the issue is at hand.

Like other forms of therapy real change requires hard work and commitment from you, a commitment to maintain your practice every day.

Simple Mindfulness Exercise

Instructions: Get into a comfortable posture ... relaxed, back erect, but not stiff, letting your body express a sense of being present and awake.

First: Close your eyes. The first step is being aware, really aware, of what is going on with you right now. Becoming aware of what is going through your mind; what thoughts are around. Just noting the thoughts as mental events.... note them, and the feelings that are around at the moment ... in particular, turning toward any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings. Rather than pushing them away or shutting them, just acknowledge, and say: “Ah, there you are, that's how it is right now." And similarly with sensations in the body... Are there sensations of tension, of holding? And again, get awareness of them, simply noting them. OK, that's how it is right now.

Second: Increase your awareness by focusing on your breath. Focus attention at the movements of the abdomen or other breathing focus points such as the nostrils or roof of the mouth, the rise and fall of the breath ... spending a minute or so to focus on the movement of the abdominal wall ... moment by moment, breath by breath, as best you can. So that you know when the breath is moving in, and you know when the breath is moving out. Just binding your awareness to the pattern of movement... gathering yourself, using the anchor of the breath to really be present.

Third: Allow your awareness to expand. As well as being aware of the breath, also include a sense of the body as a whole, including any tightness or sensations related to holding in the shoulders, neck, back, or face ... following the breath as if your whole body is breathing. Holding it all in this slightly softer ... more spacious awareness.

And then, when you are ready, just allow your eyes to open and mindfully continue with your daily activity, and develop the same throughout your day.

John Victor is a Senior Clinical Psychologist, formerly with VIMHANS. He has worked with the staff of MSF Kashmir (Médecins Sans Frontières) in dealing with professional burnout at the time of severe conflict.


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