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How to manage stress in the workplace

Every workplace has its pressures. In order to be successful in any role, it is important to know how to manage these pressures effectively, or they can lead to serious issues for both the organisation and the individual. The rise of remote working during the pandemic has brought this issue to the forefront, as many workers have seen their mental health and wellbeing suffering from working in isolation.

What is pressure? And what is stress?

It is important to remember that pressure and stress are not the same thing. Pressure, in small amounts, can be a good thing – it improves focus, builds resilience, and motivates people to work together towards a common goal. Stress occurs when someone remains under constant pressure for a long period, and has a range of negative psychological impacts. Stress can lead a person to adapt a survival mentality, where pressures are viewed through a lens of ‘this is just how it is, I have to cope.’ This focus on simply coping (rather than thriving) is poor for long-term planning and seeing the bigger picture, which is damaging to both an individual and the organisation they work for. Stress can lead to overwhelm, where the brain cannot cope with the pressure it is under and becomes unable to function at even its normal capacity. Large amounts of stress can cause even the cleverest people to do things they later regret, such as making flawed or impulsive decisions they would never have made if their brains were working optimally. Some people work well under pressure, but no-one works well under stress.

Tips on how to manage pressure:

  • Know your ‘Ouch Points’: What situations, tasks, projects, are your personal stress triggers? Knowing what these are allows you to plan and practise how to respond to them, ensuring that do so in a way that reduces their negative effects on you. It will allow you to catch yourself before you enter overwhelm so you can do something about it – delegate a task you enjoy but don’t need to do, have a meeting with your boss to make them aware of the different pressures you are under, or have a productive discussion to rearrange a deadline.

  • Anticipate future stresses: Make a list of the pressures likely to arise in the next few days, weeks, or months. They won’t look as intimidating now as they will when they get closer – so use this time to plan how you will respond to them. Take measures now to reduce the stress when those pressures arrive: for example, if you have lots of tasks to get done one day, adjust your online calendar so no-one can book any more meetings with you.

  • Manage upwards: Have candid discussions with your boss to inform them about the pressures on you and your team. This will ensure they have realistic expectations of what can be achieved in a certain period of time. Agreeing on deadlines collaboratively rather than having them imposed by your boss will reduce deadline stress, as you will be able to ensure they are realistic when considering your team’s other commitments.

  • Take a break: Breaking up your work day by taking a moment to move, to have a change of focus, to step outside, helps to fight stress and create a more relaxed, calm approach when you return to your work.

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