Much like cholesterol, there are types of stress that are beneficial and there are those that can kill you.
When bad types of stress build up, it can keep you from concentrating, make you lose focus and can have you desperately trying to put out many different fires at once. This never works.
Worse though, negative stress can cause breakdowns, exhaustion, illness and worse, much worse.
Good stress is putting yourself under pressure to get a piece of work done well, or an impending achievable deadline. The occasional adrenaline response exerted by the body is no bad thing, but a constant release of this due to unnecessary stress is really detrimental. I will cover ‘good stress’ in a future post, but for now; we need to get rid of the bad stuff before it gets rid of us.
The first thing to do is recognise this negative stress, what causes it and why. Only once you have done this can you separate the good from the bad and tackle the situation before it gets out of hand.
Once you can see what the situation is, you can put together a strategy. The strategy starts with…
Go for a walk
You heard. Get up, step away from the scene of the emergency and take a walk. Around the block, the office or wherever. The purpose of this is to take you away from the chaos so you can assess the situation. This should help you feel better. Once you have taken a good 5-10 minutes to yourself, it is time to head back to the eye of the storm.
Take a deep breath
Get some oxygen in your lungs. This has its own proven benefits as getting oxygen to the brain in the right amounts will reduce tension.
Do this whilst remembering that you are only one human! If you can delegate smaller tasks, or push back on colleagues to get things off your desk, do this first, this should reduce the overall workload.
This should leave you with a to-do list. Now be really ruthless and go through this one last time to ensure that you are handling only the relevant. I have spent numerous hours worrying about things I needn’t have even done that would have had no bearing on my day or my job. Just double-check to make sure these red herrings aren’t keeping you down.
I will tell you to do this a lot, as frankly it is one of the most powerful words in productivity. If something on your to-do list isn’t relevant and is stressful, say no to it, explain why in the most polite way and crack on with the important things.
Set buffer deadlines
This is more pre-emptive than anything, but this tactic can certainly be employed in a tough situation if it is called for. Set a deadline for the external stressful force (client, boss, whomever) and then set your own deadline. Ensure the external deadline is generous enough that you have room to manoeuvre. Get this agreed and stick to your internal deadline. This ensures that if any issues crop up, you are covered. This in itself can be a huge stress-buster.
Accept that bad things happen
Not a nice thing to say, but knowing deep down that sometimes things go wrong and that this isn’t necessarily your fault can be a huge weight off your shoulders. Keep your chin up and do all you can. This way, if something does go wrong , you know it was out of your control.
Ask for help
The hardest thing to do will often get the quickest and most significant win. Do not be afraid to do this. I have seen Account Directors with 10-15 years high level experience ask for help when it all gets too much. This level of honesty always goes down well and people appreciate this much more than you think. If the choice is either this, or keep quiet and let it all go down in flames; then get whatever courage is required and put your hand up.
That’s it for now. I’d be keen to hear what you think and how you respond best to stress – so leave me a comment.
(Image courtesy of bottled_void)