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Transform Stress into Success with the CALM Method

In today's fast-paced and demanding work environment, stress has become an all too common experience for many employees. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study surveying 3,400 full-time employees across 11 countries, a staggering 45% reported feeling stressed or burned out at least once a week. This revealing statistic underscores the pervasiveness of stress in today's workforce and emphasizes the importance of raising awareness about stress management to reduce the risk of burnout and mitigate potential long-term physical and mental health consequences.

The Nature of Stress: Differentiating between Good and Bad Stress

Not all stress is bad stress. Stress, in its essence, is the body's natural response to a wide range of events, including challenges, pressures, and uncertainties. Here are the key types of stress individuals may encounter in their daily lives:

Eustress: This type of stress, often referred to as "good stress," serves as a positive motivator that enables individuals to perform at their best. Examples of eustress include competition pressure or the energy derived from an engaged audience.

Acute Stress: Occurring due to short-term projects or temporary situations, acute stress is relatively brief in its duration and typically resolves once the stressor is removed.

Chronic Stress: In contrast, chronic stress is characterized by prolonged exposure to stressors, which can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental well-being. If left unchecked, chronic stress can escalate into burnout, leading to a significant decline in overall performance.

The Stress Curve: Striking a Balance for Optimal Well-Being

Visualizing stress as a curve can provide valuable insights into its impact on individuals' functioning and productivity. At the extreme left of the curve lies a state of boredom resulting from a lack of challenge and learning opportunities. As individuals progress towards the peak of the curve, they experience eustress, where the optimal level of challenge and growth fosters motivation and engagement. However, if stress continues to escalate unchecked, individuals may slide into the distress zone, where chronic stress and burnout lurk.

Identifying one's position on the stress curve is crucial for maintaining a healthy balance and avoiding burnout. Recognizing the signs of distress and proactively taking steps to realign oneself with eustress can significantly enhance well-being and job satisfaction.

A Framework For Managing Stress

To combat stress effectively, we have developed the CALM method—a structured framework designed to help identify stress triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and manage stress in a sustainable manner. Here's a breakdown of the CALM strategy:

C - Collect Yourself

Take a moment to collect yourself and find your inner calm. This may involve deep breathing or engaging in relaxation techniques that help you to center your mind and body. Deep breathing can swiftly reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone, making it one of the quickest ways to regain control and clarity when feelings of stress hit.

Prolonged stress can disrupt oxygen delivery to the cells in our brain and body, reducing efficiency and hindering focus. However, by intentionally focusing on our breath and taking slow, deep breaths, we can counteract these effects. This practice boosts oxygen intake quality and lowers cortisol levels, mitigating the impact of stress on our well-being.

A - Assess the Situation

By objectively assessing the stressor and evaluating its impact, individuals can gain clarity on the underlying issue and devise effective strategies for addressing it. This step involves identifying whether the stressor is within one's control or sphere of influence.

Acknowledging that there are aspects beyond our control can be incredibly freeing. This acceptance allows us to release anxiety and stress, redirecting our energy towards areas where we can enact positive change. Psychologist Kurt Lewin's theory of Circles of Influence, distinguishes between aspects of life that are within our control (thoughts, actions) and those that are not (external events, others' opinions). By focusing on what we can control and letting go of what we cannot, individuals can reduce stress and navigate challenges with a sense of agency and purpose.

Adapted from Kurt Lewin's Circles of Influence

L - Let Go of Unnecessary Worries

Focusing on essential matters and letting go of unnecessary worries can prevent the escalation of stress. By challenging limiting beliefs and reframing perspectives, individuals can prioritize what truly matters and release the rest. Innovation Strategist and Leadership Coach, Emma Pears encourages the use of the powerful question, "What does it matter?" to help one gain perspective and reduce stress.

M - Move Forward

Choose an empowering mindset to move forward with. Adopting a positive approach and embracing a growth mindset are pivotal in navigating stressful situations. Breaking tasks down into manageable steps, seeking support systems, and nurturing a resilient mindset can empower individuals to overcome challenges and thrive in the face of adversity.

A Practical Example

Let's explore how a manager, Sarah, can apply the CALM framework while working to maintain her team's trust and engagement after a layoff:

C - Collect Yourself: Sarah takes a moment to collect herself amidst the challenging situation at hand. She practices deep breathing and grounds herself to approach the task of rebuilding trust with a clear and calm mindset.

A - Assess the Situation: Sarah objectively evaluates the impact of the layoffs on her team's morale and trust levels. She identifies the factors within her control, such as communication strategies, team dynamics, and creating a safe and supportive environment for her employees.

L - Let Go of Unnecessary Worries: Sarah focuses on letting go of unnecessary worries that may hinder progress in rebuilding trust. By reframing her perspective on past events and not dwelling on what she cannot change, she frees up mental space to concentrate on

strategies that can positively influence her team's perception and rebuild trust. Sarah acknowledges that dwelling on past events or worrying excessively about the layoff outcomes is counterproductive to her goal of maintaining a united and engaged team.

M - Move Forward: Sarah adopts a proactive approach to move forward and rebuild trust within her team. She communicates openly and transparently, addressing any concerns or uncertainties arising from the layoffs. By focusing on fostering open dialogue, providing support, and actively involving the team in decision-making processes, Sarah empowers her employees to voice their thoughts and concerns, thereby creating a safe and inclusive environment.


Stress and burnout pose significant challenges in today's work landscape, impacting the well-being and productivity of employees and leaders. By understanding the different types of stress, recognizing stress triggers, and implementing effective coping strategies such as the CALM approach, individuals can proactively manage stress and cultivate a positive work environment conducive to growth and success.

As organizations strive to prioritize employee well-being and mental health, empowering individuals to navigate stress effectively is crucial for fostering a culture of resilience and sustainability. By equipping employees with the tools and strategies to thrive amidst workplace stress, organizations can create a supportive and conducive environment that promotes holistic well-being and maximizes individual potential.


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