How Successful Managers Stay Calm Under Pressure
The challenge of running a big project and managing multiple people and tasks simultaneously can be exhausting and deeply stressful for many of us in the workplace
But it doesn’t have to be. Some people naturally thrive under pressure, while others learn to apply powerful strategies to allow them to remain calm and in control when the pressure piles on. Stress doesn’t have to be the enemy— and in fact can be a valuable ally— but you need to make sure it doesn’t get the better of you and damage your job performance or even your mental and physical health.
Good Guy or Bad Guy? Reshaping your Views on Stress
We tend to think of stress as a resolutely bad thing, but in fact it’s a pretty vital part of our human existence. A sense of pressure pushes us to do things that we might otherwise put off indefinitely (project deadlines/bill-paying/dentist appointment), and stress even has a role in forming new memory brain cells and keeping you alert in the face of challenges. If you can learn to appreciate the role of stress in moving yourself and your team towards the final goal, you can start viewing stress as a necessary and helpful ally, thereby removing some of its toxic reputation.
Where stress becomes a real issue is when it is long-lasting, or chronic. This constant feeling of stress looming over you is when the negative effects kick in, from having difficulty concentrating and poor decision-making, to irritability and health issues. If you’re a manager of a long-term project or working in a high-stress environment, then learning strategies to combat stress is one of the most important things you can ever do—for yourself and your team.
According to research done by Talentsmart, 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. The key word here is skilled: for learning to combat stress is a skill like any other in your management arsenal, and one that can definitely be learnt.
Some proven stress-busting techniques
Figure out your triggers. Isolate which incidents and/or people tend to get your stress response racing. Is it an email from your own boss chasing a progress report? Is it that slightly hostile person in sales? With each trigger you identify, come up with an action plan of how you will deal with it next time it comes up. In this way you take back control, rather than allowing your stress hormones to hijack your brain.
Write down the things that are stressing you out. Often we operate under a heavy mental cloud when we’re stressed, feeling that it’s more a combination of everything that’s getting us down, rather than any big things. By writing each stressor or problem down individually, we can often see that it’s not truly that big a deal, thereby removing its power over us and cutting the stress-cloud back to size. It can be really helpful to write out any solutions you have next to each issue so you see that they are manageable.
Write down the things you’re happy about. Get into the habit of noting down things that are going well or that you’re grateful for. It can be the tiniest happiness, or a major achievement- it doesn’t matter, it just has to focus the mind on the positive. Research shows that this kind of practiced, regular gratitude actually alters the shape of our brain and makes us happier, so it’s probably worth a shot.
Make good health choices. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as well as sugary, high fat and salty foods, all of which trigger stress responses. Be sure to exercise regularly: it has been proven to calm the mind. By taking care of your body you put yourself in the right position to combat stress.
Sleep well. This can be a hard one to master if stress is getting in the way of your sleep, but you will forever struggle to beat stress without giving your brain time to shut off and heal overnight. Exercise, meditation and avoiding caffeine can help in this regard.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in the ‘what-if’ avalanche of doom. Sure, consider some contingencies in case things don’t go to plan on the project, but letting yourself get in a bother over something that might never happen is a futile and destructive waste of time and energy. When you see yourself start to do it, distract yourself immediately with another task, or sit down with your pen and paper and practice steps 2 and 3 to manage your stress.
Breathe. Those who do yoga or meditate will be the first to tell you that they feel much calmer and think with more clarity after a session. (And the science backs them up on this). You can apply this trick in the workplace by breathing in and out 20 times with long, oxygen-rich deep breaths to calm the mind when you feel like things are getting on top of you.
These are just a few of the proven ways that you can wrestle your stress levels back to size and learn to thrive under the pressure of project deadlines and people management. You’ll soon see that the benefits extend far outside the workplace as you become a happier, calmer, and more productive you.