When you’re entering a busy period at work, like the lead up to Christmas, it can be pretty easy to feel overwhelmed about how busy you are.
But sometimes, your perspective of how busy you are is not representative of how busy you actually are.
Why? Because we subjectively rank our stress levels based on how many internal and external pressures we perceive there to be in a particular situation.
Mind Tools defines the experience of stress as “believing we don't have the time, resources, or knowledge to handle a situation. In short, we experience stress when we feel out of control”.
Mind Tools explains your mindset has a powerful effect on how well you’re able to cope with a situation: “you'll handle stress better if you're confident in your abilities, if you can change the situation to take control, and if you feel that you have the help and support needed to do a good job”.
What are the causes of stress at work?
University of Cambridge identifies a number of stress-causing factors in workplaces.
These factors include feeling overloaded with work, lacking a sense of control, having poor relationships with management or colleagues, job insecurity, a lack of work-life balance, a lack of training and constructive feedback, a lack of support from management or ineffective business processes, a perceived lack of career progression, inadequate pay and benefits, or a poor physical working environment.
There are countless psychological studies supporting different stress management techniques that can reduce or eliminate problematic factors.
Overcome work stress with deep breathing
Business psychologist Sharon Melnick says taking “a few minutes” to practice deep breathing after being in a stressful situation can “restore balance”.
“Simply inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose.
“It’s like getting the calm and focus of a 90-minute yoga class in three minutes or less at your desk,” Professor Melnick says.
Play to your strengths
Positive psychologist Michelle McQuaid says people often focus on what’s not working when trying to complete a task, rather than recognising how their personal strengths can improve a situation.
“Studies have found using your strengths boosts your confidence, energy and engagement in your work so your brain can perform at its best.”
She believes people often aren’t aware of what their key strengths are.
Michelle recommends people take the Via Character survey, which discovers a person’s key character strengths in just 10 minutes.
The survey – which has assessed the strengths of almost three million people worldwide – maps your levels of competencies across 24 character strength definitions.
The strengths are grouped in six areas: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.
Next time you’re facing a problem, think about how your personal strengths could improve a situation or provide a solution.
Improve your workspace to relieve stress
Studies show that your physical work environment can negatively affect you as much as stress related to workload or relationships.
Factors such as poor lighting, noisiness, uncomfortable chairs or impractical desks, poor climate conditions (such as an office that’s too hot or cold), an unclean workspace, or workstations that are overcrowded can cause a person to feel overwhelmed.
Raising these concerns with your manager or human resources team and asking to move desks, change the workspace layout, invest in adequate storage, or implement cleanliness rules could be effective solutions.
Removing these small but irritating distractions could be enough to allow you to better focus on completing work productively.
Put your priorities into perspective
Experienced project management professional Lynn Wendt says maintaining focus on your projects’ scopes and goals will help you better manage competing priorities.
Lynn also recommends mapping where a project lies within the wider organisational priorities; the bigger picture.
This will help clarify which project deliverable is more urgent or important than another.
She says maintaining communication with stakeholders and management is key to keeping stress levels down as well.
Keeping these key members involved in the solution discovery and outcomes can improve the likelihood of delivering the project successfully.
But above all else when faced with a problem, don’t panic, Lynn says.
“Depending on your experience level, panic might be your knee-jerk reaction when faced with a challenge while executing a project.
Lynn recommends putting your stress into perspective by accessing the facts, data and assets available to you.
“You will then be more likely to find a workable solution,” Lynn says.