8 Ways to Manage Yourself During Stressful, Busy Times
Workplace stress is a reality. But how leaders manage themselves in the middle of the storm is everything. These insights can help leaders—from CEOs to middle managers—successfully navigate the stressors of the modern work environment.
There’s no question about it: Today’s workplace can be stressful. The long work hours, the endless flow of information, the competing demands on our attention—all of these factors can make us feel perpetually overwhelmed and out of control if not managed well.
The best leaders learn to deal with the conditions and problems that lead to stress in a way that keeps everyone on track. How you behave when times are bad truly defines you as a leader and sets the tone for how others manage the situation. If you create a culture where people fall to pieces when things get tough, productivity will suffer.
Here are a few suggestions for managing yourself with grace under stress:
- Eliminate as much stress as you can by being a well-run organization. Work to create a best-odds environment for eliminating problems. Put proper processes and procedures in place for removing avoidable headaches. For example: Plan for disaster by learning from mistakes and fixing the culprits. Identify stress points and think critically about who they impact. What is causing increased work-loads? Use this evaluation to decide where to delegate work and identify team members who might need additional support. Don’t lower expectations. This will only breed excuses and erode performance over time.
- Say no to some requests. This way, you don’t have to scurry around trying to do them and then later explain why you didn’t get them done.
- Learn to prioritize and teach others as well. A big to-do list should not freak you out. Just use the checklist to work in a sensible order, evaluating what is most important. Often, we try to close out small tasks to make room for bigger ones, when we should be prioritizing our to-do list and staying focused on the things that matter.
- Simplify when things get stressful. A good leader can make a potentially crushing workload feel manageable. By taking a calm and methodical approach, you can make a huge difference in helping others stay focused and productive and keep their stress reactions in check.
- Create a culture of calm. Be sensitive to the messages you’re sending out — model calmness when things are chaotic. The things leaders do, both positive and negative, get mirrored. And research shows that the ripple effect of negative emotions is considerably more intense than that of positive emotions.
- Don’t pretend to be fearless. A common mistake leaders make is to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t. Acknowledging that situations or unfavorable circumstances are real is the best way to build trust with your team and get them to invest 110% on solving the problem. This is not the same thing as getting bent out of shape. You can be honest and calm at the same time.
- Master calming tactics and teach others to do the same. If you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed by stress, here are a few ways you can calm yourself down quickly:
• Walk away. Take a 20-minute break. Go for a walk.
• Physical activity is a great stress reliever. Most of the time, a little natural sunlight can make a big difference in your mood.
• Take a few deep breaths. Try to quiet your mind intentionally. Opening up the body allows for better blood flow, and deep breathing puts more oxygen in the blood and can help minimize the impact of cortisol, the stress hormone.
• Count backward from 10. Do it twice if you have to. Shifting your focus from the problem at hand to a relatively simple task can help you come back to your work with a fresh set of eyes. It also helps your brain reset and refocus.
- Create a best-odds plan for staying healthy. This gives you the stamina you need—both physical and mental—to cope with stress and keep going. Sleep well, eat well, stay hydrated, and generally take good care of your body so you’ll be in tip-top shape mentally.
- Be resilient/learn to reset. Setbacks will happen. Leaders must be able to bounce back quickly and continue to move forward even when things appear to be falling apart. Resiliency is essential as leaders need to have the mental wherewithal to offer support and continue to direct their teams. Being resilient comes from having excellent coping skills, supportive environments with a lot of psychological safety, a strong sense of optimism, grit, and the mental and physical stamina to sustain and move through stressful situations.
As with everything else, experience counts for a lot. The more seasoned leaders will be better at handling stress just because they have had so many years to learn to cope. They’ve seen what can happen when they don’t handle stress well, and they are more motivated to change. If you are a new leader, know that this is a skill you build just like everything else. Use these tools and tactics and see that it gets easier every day.
Quint Studer is the author of The Busy Leader’s Handbook (http://www.thebusyleadershandbook.com) and a lifelong student of leadership. He is also the founder of Vibrant Community Partners and Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute.