Life is busy and for many of us that’s particularly true at work. I can’t think of a client I’ve worked with in the last 10 years where the employees didn’t feel at least a little over worked. A little bit of tension and stress can be motivating and can drive some creativity but the old cliche of “doing more with less” seems to have become the new normal. With all this extra pressure sooner or later we’re bound to feel a little stressed out. Having a few coping mechanisms can help, at least in the short term.
Here are five actions you can take to reduce your stress level.
1. Identify the Cause of Your Stress
There are probably nearly as many causes of stress as there are people who are stressed. Once you recognize you’re feeling pressured it can be immensely helpful to stop and ask what is causing the stress. Sometimes just understanding the root cause of stress can point to ways to reduce it. Are you facing impossible deadlines? Are you working through a phase of a project you just don’t enjoy? Are you dealing with changes you did not initiate? Are situations outside work affecting your ability to do your job? It may seem obvious but understanding the reason you’re stressed might be the single best action you can take to reduce, eliminate, or find ways to cope with the situation.
When we’re under pressure it often just seems there are more things to do than we can possibly achieve. At times like that prioritization is key. EMTs are taught to triage patients and you will need to do the same. If you are getting phone calls and e-mails faster than you can respond, you simply have to face the reality that you cannot handle them all immediately. Quickly assess which items need to be addressed with urgency, which can wait a while and which are truly not urgent at all. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey emphasized understanding whether an activity is important or unimportant and whether it’s urgent or not. He astutely asserts that too often people confuse urgency with importance. Separating level of importance from level of urgency can really help you focus on the important activities and postpone, or sometimes even ignore, the unimportant ones regardless of their urgency.
In pressure situations one of the best things you can do is delegate some of your activities to other people. Even if you don’t have other people who work for you, ask for help. Sometimes simple things, like asking your coworkers to pick up lunch for you on the way back from their lunch break, can provide you with enough relief to make a difference. If you can delegate some of your more time consuming or thought consuming activities, even better. While you focus on the issues creating the stress it is a huge help if you don’t have to refocus on making other decisions. Sometime numerous small decisions can be handed off to others to free you up to focus on fewer, more important activities.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
A project management trainer once told me “projects will crush you if you let them.” He was specifically talking about the inability of any one person to handle all the issues that arise on a project. You may need to remind yourself that, as good as you are, you are only human and you’re only one person. Realistically assess what you can and cannot get done. Once you identify your limits you can develop strategies to handle those things you cannot realistically get done. Perhaps you can ask for extra help. You may have to reschedule some activities. You also need to consider sharing your shortcomings with project stakeholders. If you know you won’t be able to deliver on time, don’t wait until your due date to communicate that. Doing so doesn’t make the news any better and will force you to deal with stress for the duration of the project.
5. Take Care of Yourself
It’s often too easy to neglect ourselves when we’re under pressure. Make sure you find time to take care of yourself when you’re stressed. Exercise can be a wonderful way to cope with stress. Not only will you burn off some of the stress but you’ll come back to the stressful situation with a fresh perspective. Take 20 minutes to go for a walk, a run, or a visit to the gym. Make time to engage in an activity that focuses your attention on other things for a little while. Some examples are playing musical instruments, quiet meditation, watching a movie, or socializing with friends. All of these activities will help shift your mental state and give you a break from your stressors. While it can be difficult to disengage in resolving a stressful situation, your creative thinking and problem solving can be improved by walking away for a little bit. As Albert Einstein so eloquently put it “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
While stress and pressure are fairly common in today’s workplace, there are lots of ways to manage them. The five activities discussed here, identifying the cause of stress, prioritizing, delegating, setting realistic expectations, and taking care of yourself are just a few ways to cope. Hopefully you’ve found something in the list that will help you through the next stressful situation you encounter. If you have other stress reducing ideas, I would love to hear about them. You can share your thoughts by leavings a comment below.