How Not to Meltdown in the Middle of a Stressful Moment

I’m sitting at my desk at 11:45 am to allow 15 minutes to prepare for my noon client.

That’s when I notice that my computer is frozen.

Ok, I think, I’ve got plenty of time to restart it and send my client the Zoom link (that I should have sent the night before).

My computer has a different idea. It stubbornly won’t re-connect no matter how much I command, “Come on already!”

I spot my stress building. I’m holding my breath. My shoulders are rising toward my ears.

Why? Because one of my biggest stress triggers is time. And being late is at the top of the things that can freak me out in a flash.

Thankfully I’ve spotted my stress just when it is beginning to overwhelm my brain. While some stress can be good, this stress has tipped over to distress. And if this continues cortisol will flood my brain, making problem-solving a real challenge.

I’ve written about how to manage in-the-moment stress in my book, Less Stress Life. So, I quickly shift to applying my SURF method to my current situation.

Step One, Spot your stress, is about learning to spot stress in the moment. Check.

Now I shift to step two: Unleash my options.

Here’s what I come up with:

  1. I could call my client to say I’m running late.
  2. I could pause and take a few deep breaths which will help me think more clearly.
  3. I could disconnect from WiFi and see if reconnecting solves the problem.
  4. I could talk to myself the way a friend would talk to calm me down.

Step three, the “R”: in SURF means respond to one or more ideas from Step Two.

I start with taking three deep breaths, then decide to call my client to give her a heads up that I’m running late.

But, I can’t find her phone number anywhere. Why? Because I’ve saved it in an email folder which I can’t access!

I keep trying to re-connect while continuing to calmly say to myself, It’s alright. My client will understand.

Somehow my computer sparks back to life and my email pops up on the screen — in the nick of time — at 11:57.

That’s when I laugh out loud when I spot my first message. It’s from my client and reads:

Can we do 12:10? I need an extra few minutes.

Ah, what a gift! My shoulders sink back down. I exhale. I even smile at the ridiculousness of my stress. This is not an emergency, I remind myself.

As I await my client I move to step four. The “F” in SURF: Figure out what worked.

This helps me remember that life would not have ended if I had shown up a few minutes late for our coaching session. My client knows I value our time together. She would have understood a computer meltdown.

And it doesn’t help if I have a meltdown too.

I also remind myself how far I’ve come. By catching my stress in the moment I can more calmly face every situation with all of my best thinking at hand.

How about you? What happens when you’re hit with stress? Do you follow your typical freak-out pattern, or use stress as an opportunity to try something new?

That’s where my SURF method can help. Here’s a summary:

Spot Your Stress

Unleash Your Options

Respond in a New Way

Figure out What Worked

So, I’d say that while stress is inevitable — our response is not. When you use my SURF method you’ll avoid a meltdown as you handle stressful moments in new ways. Gradually you’ll learn to stay calmer right in the middle of each stressful moment.


For more insightful advice from Jamie, please visit:

Website: The Less Stress Coach

Less Stress Business: A Guide to Hiring, Coaching, and Leading Great Employees
Less Stree Life: How I Went from Crazed to Calm and You Can Too

Is a Stress-Free Life Possible?
If You Choose to Get Better at Stress – I Guarantee You Can


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