How to move effectively through stressful situations.

May 11, 2021 4 min read

Woman rock climbing

Fight, flight or freeze? These techniques and tricks might help you move from feeling threatened onto challenging the situation.

The past few weeks have been an intense reminder not to take anything for granted.

While COVID-19 was in this vein, it wasnothing like the ‘pit of your stomach feeling’ I had after taking my youngest to emergency three times in one week, followed by a 10 day admission to solve an illness they initially couldn’t identify. Unfortunately, we’ve been back more than a few times since.

We are so lucky to live where we live and have access to healthcare in Australia. I am eternally grateful to the Royal Children’s for their care and assistance - particularly when not everyone is as lucky. 

Staying calm under pressure is a skill and one that I continue to work on all the time. 

Throughout my professional career I have trained myself in stressful situations to rely on a handful of techniques that various people have shared along the way. These techniques aim to quickly bring you from a “threat” state into a “challenge” state, so that you can better navigate your immediate response to the situation and make a more considered choice about how to respond.

These techniques have been all I can muster at points over the past couple of weeks. I hope they help you in times of crisis too. 

Have you tried Square breathing?

The moment you feel your heart pounding not just in your chest, but also in your ears and your head - STOP - and focus on your breath. Sounds ridiculous - and also like the ABSOLUTE last thing you want to be doing, but trust me. 

Focusing on breathing in for 2-4 seconds, holding for 2-4 seconds, breathing out for 2-4 seconds, then holding for 2-4 seconds will make you feel calmer, faster. 

Equally, if you’re a visual person, breathing across the lines of a  square shape in your mind is also incredibly helpful. Doing this twice through centres you, and gives you a moment to separate yourself from the situation and the stress. 

Try to ground yourself.

I have a bad habit of pressing my nail into the skin near my fingernails when I’m in flight or fight mode. 

Interestingly, this is actually a helpful response. Doing something that you can concentrate on, change your focus, and ground yourself with, like putting pressure somewhere on your body with your fingernail, tapping an item of jewellery, feeling each part of your body pressed into a seat, or even focusing on drinking a glass of water, are all helpful grounding techniques.

These techniques create space when you feel like you have none, so that you can process and select how you will respond, rather than immediately reacting.

The art of visualisation and mantras.

Visualisation and mantras can be incredibly powerful. 

I know this sounds a little naff, and like “The Secret”, but if you imagine, visualise and trulyWill something, you are more likely to move all that you can to make those things come to fruition. 

Put into practice: I consistently imagined seeing those clear test results, receiving the good news that all was ok from the doctors, and visualising in granular detail the positive news I so craved to hear. 

Repeating positive affirmations when walking through doorways has also served me well, telling yourself the outcome that you envisage. While this doesn’t always work out the way you foresee, nine times out of ten I find it really helps to calm me down in the moment.

Strike a "Power Pose."

Power poses are my final go-to. I use these ALL the time (#amycuddyisaboss). 

Occupying as much space as possible encourages your body to release greater levels of testosterone and lower your cortisol levels making you feel more equipped to face whatever “threat” you are dealing with. Difficult conversations, a big pitch or meeting, or anything else nerve inducing etc. this technique is so useful. 

The famous power pose is the superhero stance; hands on your hips, chest proudly out, feet shoulder-width apart and firmly planted on the ground, *cape flapping behind you*. Think Wonder Woman stance.

Amy Cuddy has scientifically proven that making small tweaks to your non-verbal behaviours (taking on open and expansive postures with your body) for as little as 2 minutes, will make you feel more powerful through physiological changes in your body. 

I have done a LOT of walking around in hospital with my hands on my hips and my chest out (see example pose by Chanie below).

Chanie Hyde - Marketing for She Lion in a Hands on Hips Power Pose

Many tests, scary words and hypotheses later - we are thankfully nearing the other side of it all. 

I have been in some very serious situations and made many difficult decisions, both personal and in business, but this has been, by far, the most serious situation within which I’ve ever had to use these techniques. 

These are my go-to for calming my mind and that is why I share them hoping they prove useful to you too. 

Having said that, I hope you don’t have to use them too often. If this month has reinforced anything for me, it’s the following:

Much love



Kate Dillon - Founder of She Lion

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