Everyone experiences stress at work. And the fact is, some stress is good; it keeps us on our toes, helps us hit deadlines, encourages creative thinking, and helps people and projects move forward.
But too much stress is detrimental. The most productive and effective people have strategies for dealing with that excess stress that make them appear cool and collected to the outside world — even when they’re juggling a dozen projects and deadlines.
How do they do it? With a combination of the following tactics:
Make a list of healthy responses.
Instead of trying to drown your stress with food or alcohol, letting your stress boil over into an angry response, or numbing your feelings when you get home with mindless TV or Internet, instead try making a list of healthy things you can do when you feel stressed. Exercise might be top of your list, like going for a walk or jog, or doing some yoga. Other ideas might include a long shower, a call to a friend, writing in a journal, working on a favorite hobby, or working towards a goal like planning a vacation or even looking for a new (less stressful) job.
Create — and maintain — some boundaries.
It’s easy to be connected 24/7 in today’s world, but doing so can add to feelings of stress. Start by setting limits on when you check work emails. If your coworkers or clients are used to you responding at all hours, you’ll need to give them notice of your new schedule.
In order to truly relax, you need time when you are neither working nor thinking about work. Start creating some space in your calendar that’s just for you, and not coloured by working or worrying about work. Take your vacation days and make them a real vacation away from work. Or, if you can’t take time off, when you’re not at work, engage in activities that require your attention and can take your mind off work.
It may sound silly, but if you’re “on” all the time, you may have trouble relaxing. Practicing meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or another relaxation technique can help you remember how to unclench a bit and truly relax when you’re not at work. As a bonus, many of these techniques can be used in small bursts while you’re at work, helping you relax when you feel the stress starting to build.
Identify what you can and cannot control.
If something is completely outside your control, like a client’s response to a situation or when a vendor will deliver something, there’s no use stressing about it. Instead, focus on the things you can control and give them your undivided attention.
Start by turning off all the dings, beeps, and blings on your smartphone. Next, turn off the alert on your email and try only checking once an hour or — heaven forbid — once every few hours. You might try putting a “do not disturb” sign on your office door or the back of your chair, and turning the ringer off your phone for an hour when you really need to concentrate. When you can focus more completely, you’ll feel more productive and less stressed.
Schedule your day more realistically.
Get in the habit of not only putting items onto your daily schedule, but actually estimating how much time each one will take. If you know you have four things to address that will take two hours each, it’s easy to see that the fifth project that just landed on your desk won’t get done in an eight-hour work day, and you can adjust accordingly instead of feeling behind the eight ball all day.
Take care of your body.
Stress has a real physical impact on your body, and you can help mitigate it by making sure that you’re eating healthily and getting enough sleep. Don’t rely on fast food or the office vending machine during stressful times, and make sure you’re going to bed at a reasonable hour — even if you stayed late at work.
The most effective and productive individuals know how to prioritise their time to work on the most important projects. Even if you are assigned projects by a manager, you can clarify your priorities with them by saying something like, “I got the new project you sent this morning, but I thought the project you gave me yesterday was our top priority. Can you clarify what you want me to focus on?”
Take one positive action.
When you’re feeling completely stressed out, try identifying and then taking one positive action. It might be making a list of tasks that you can prioritise, asking for more resources, or even just finding the humor in the situation. If you can find one positive action to take, everything else will seem more doable.