1. Count backwards from one thousand by sevens: When you focus on a repetitive math problem, your brain increases metabolism in areas such as the posterior parietal cortex (which is involved in planned movements) and the prefrontal cortex (which is involved in decision-making). That means less energy to the areas that handle instinctive, angry responses.
Not a math whiz? Try counting backwards from three hundred by threes. Math whiz? Try calculating some five-digit prime numbers. You want to pick a problem simple enough you can do it in your head but complicated enough to make you stop and think.
2. Think of warm brownies: This trick helps because of classical conditioning. Can you remember feeling happy and relaxed when the brownies came out of the oven? Think of their sight, taste, texture and smell. Automatically, your nerves relax some because they associate brownies with safety and calm.
If an image of brownies doesn't do the trick, think about the times where you felt tranquil, secure and content. Pick an item or image that sums up those times and visualize it in every detail. Depending on the associations you've made, you might picture buffalo wings, a bonfire or your favorite fishing spot. Thanks to classical conditioning, the image will lead your nerves to unwind, just as Pavlov's bell made his dogs' mouths water.
There's a business-management lesson here, too:
1. At high-stress moments, remind your employees of their coping skills.
2. Tolerate their surly attitude until the skills have had time to work.