Panic can happen all too easily. Just look at periodic insanity in the stock market. It's hard enough to calm your nerves when looking at an investment portfolio. Things hit a whole new level when problems rock your business.
The difference in stress is one of scale. The portfolio is a big part of your future, but even a bad shakeup in the markets isn't likely to decimate it. Your business, however, is your future and present. No wonder you can feel anxiety or depression, or even develop panic attack symptoms, if you run into a sudden significant business problem.
Whether the issue is a sudden loss of a major customer, a legal issue, big employee issues, a financial meltdown, or something else, it's easy to drop into a tailspin and lose touch with how to pull out. I've been there multiple times, both in my own businesses and working in and for others, and it's no fun. But there are steps you can take to help lessen that feeling of all of your insides dropping away while making better decisions.
1. Recognize that your reaction isn't wrong or bad
Fear of social stigma and crazy expectations of how people--that is, you--are supposed to react in challenging events can create a sense of shame or embarrassment about panic or anxiety. First, remember that anxiety is a normal reaction in people, because it gets the body ready to respond to danger. If you were able to see a problem that seemed engulfing and not have any concerns, that would be something to worry about. The more you accept the process you must go through as natural and not abnormal, the better you can do.
2. Immediately take a few minutes to relax or meditate
In a desperate time, doing anything but immediately addressing the problem at hand can feel ridiculous. "Everything is going wrong and you want me to relax?" Again, been there, done that. But there is almost no situation in which taking a few moments at the start to calm yourself is a mistake. When you're anxious or panicked, your thinking goes out the window. You need to regain some separation from the events so you can focus on developing a workable solution. This won't be lost time, any more than upfront planning for a project is.
3. Review the situation
Once calm, you need a clearheaded look at what has happened. An issue may be every bit as problematic as it seems, or possibly worse--and I talk with experience of seeing funds stolen by some unknown person, being in businesses that faced unreasonable legal attacks, having to manage the aftermath of operations disasters, or seeing a lot of business walk out the door at one time through a series of coincidences. When you panic, though, you can end up exaggerating observations. The actual problem may be far more easily handled than you think. Get a trusted adviser to help you sort through what happened and the potential consequences; you'll benefit from getting a view from someone who isn't directly involved and should be able to gain some additional objectivity. If it helps, remember that few business problems are a real issue of life and death. Many successful entrepreneurs go through multiple failures before finally turning a corner. What you're experiencing may be part of a bigger process.
4. Develop a strategy
As you have a clearer view of the problem and its potential impact (or perhaps lack of impact), you can develop a plan to manage it. Break things into manageable pieces. Maybe you'll need access to capital, specialized expertise, or practical changes to how you operate. Be ready to negotiate with other parties who are involved; you'd be surprised how often people understand how problems can pop up and are willing to work with you so things ultimately come together. They likely have something to gain as well. Also be sure to address crisis communications needs, whether with the public, regulators, customers, or business partners. The more open and transparent you are, the easier it will be to pull out of the problem, even if it feels embarrassing at the time.
5. Put the plan into action
Process management is critical here. The bigger the problem, the longer and more complicated addressing it can be. You must be absolutely on the ball and meeting deadlines. People can forgive a lot and help you make amends, but if you seem to be indifferent or blowing off responsibilities, their attitudes and willingness to cooperate can quickly shift.
The most important thing to remember is that you really will get through this. It may be hard and unpleasant, but it's not your entire life and future. Keep pushing ahead and don't give up.