Got stress? Lots of it? Boy, are you not alone. Are you stressed enough to need a punching bag? So are 62% of marketers … or worse. What’s more, 12% of us are at the breaking point.
A certain amount of stress is just part of life. Applied judiciously, it focuses us and improves our performance.
But as we all know, there’s good stress and bad stress. We all get short bursts of stress we’re naturally wired for ‒ it helped us when we needed to run away from bears and lions. That’s useful stress. It’s great for tennis matches or other competitive sports.
Then there’s office stress. Modern-life stress. The slow-burn, relentless series of frustrations that gets on our nerves and never seems to let up. Hopefully, we can escape from it for at least a few hours every day. But over time, it’s not good for us.
Then there’s the extreme stress those 12% of marketers are experiencing. The intense, can-barely-breathe, can-barely-think intensity stress. Hopefully, it’s rare for you. Though honestly, in some companies it can happen all too often. I remember a few ad agencies where this kind of stress was a daily event.
That’s the type of stress that hurts your performance. Sure, there are health hazards to it, too. But let’s just be total Type As for a moment and focus solely on performance. Intense stress impairs cognition – it literally makes us dumber, which about the last thing we need in these high-pressure moments. Stress is also likely to cause us to get sick (even a small cold can be a disaster before a presentation). So that impairs performance yet again.
Basically, the task we have is to manage our stress. To stay below the freak-out level, yet still be motivated enough to feel energized. To find the comfortable edge, as a yogi would say.
This article is about how to do that. It’s for how to take your “all-out freak-out” down a couple of notches. So you can get back to work. (Remember, this is for Type A people.)
Even three breaths will help.
I know you have no time, no privacy, no options. But no matter where you are, or whatever’s going on (barring an underwater meeting), you can still breathe.
And breathing helps. Three deep, slow breaths will bring oxygen to your system – including your brain. That will help you think more clearly. And the more clearly you can think, the better you’ll cope. The worst part of stress is the paralysis.
2. Get perspective.
Ever heard “how important is this going to be in 50 years?”
It’s a good way to get perspective, but 50 years is too long. It makes almost anything feel trivial. And when things seem totally trivial and you’re under pressure, your response could be something like “Oh, shove this – tell them all to go to heck.” (Or something more … colorful.)
Try a timeframe that’s more useful. In five months, how big a deal is this going to be? In five years, how big? In five days?
If something is going to be pretty much forgotten five days from now (much less five hours), is it really worth risking a heart attack over?
3. Embrace it.
You’ve heard all the news about how stress is bad for you, right? How it makes you sick? Well, that’s only true if you believe stress is bad for you. If you believe it’s good for you – you don’t get sick.
Seriously. There’s a terrific TED Talk about how this is true. Just watching it might, well, reduce some of your stress about being stressed.
4. Talk to somebody.
We do this so naturally, we might not even be aware we’re applying a stress-reduction habit. But talking to people – especially the right people – absolutely helps.
Actually, I think this might be a spin on “get some perspective.” Talking to another human gives us a chance to ask how they are. For a second, we think about something besides our own problems. That’s often just enough of a gap to get some sanity back. And every little bit of sanity you get back then gives you the wherewithal to take another action … to get even more sanity back.
Who knows? Maybe after a good talk with a friend, you’ll have the courage to…
It’s a universal human experience: We think things will take a certain amount of time, and then they don’t. They take longer. Way longer.
If we’ve scheduled ourselves to the max, that means we’ve suddenly got more stuff to do than we’ve got time for. And voila – you are stressed out again.
So if something isn’t working, speak up. Ask for an extension. Ask to get some help. The worst they can say is no, right?
Know who’s often the toughest person to re-negotiate your work with? Yourself. So sometimes you have to…
6. Lie to yourself. And others, too.
I don’t generally recommend lying, but here’s one time it works: Lie to that part of yourself that would have you booked all the time. On the sly, schedule gaps in your calendar, and just lie to her and tell her they’re full.
Deliberately create blank spaces in your day.
Here’s why: If you’re consistently finding yourself behind on your work, or always late for appointments, it’s because you’re not giving yourself enough time.
You’re causing your stress.
This is good. Because if it’s you that’s creating your stress (or even part of it), it’s you that can stop it.
A friend of mine endorses “double spacing your to do list.” It’s basically a tactic to get yourself to stop overcommitting.
But if you simply cannot make yourself do this, arrange another way to add a couple of gaps to your schedule. For instance…
7. Find one thing to outsource.
Just one thing. Find one thing a week. Maybe you’ll pay your dry cleaner to pick up your clothes, so you don’t have to. Maybe you’ll hire that kid to mow your lawn. Maybe you’ll invest in Fancy Hands or some other online service to do some tiny digital task for you once a week. Whatever.
Just find one thing.
Another twist on this? Learn to say no. Practice in the mirror if you have to. Seriously.
Or instead of constantly looking for things you should be doing, shift gears and ask this: “What can I stop doing?”
You’ve heard how sitting is the new smoking, right? Being sedentary is a huge contributing and risk factor for many diseases and conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes … and anxiety. So, if we pair lots of sitting with constant stress, and we’ve got full-blown health hazard.
So bust out. Try to find a couple of co-workers to walk with you, if you can. If it’s miserable weather out, walk the halls.
Honestly, I find getting out of the building most helpful. I can’t tell you how many times I have stepped out to walk the dog, and within ten steps I’ll get an idea that solves my problem. At least once a week I’ll get an idea that saves me a couple of hours. Walking is wildly productive.
But maybe walking isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s foosball. Or shopping. Or juggling. Whatever. Do whatever works ‒ as long as you’re not sitting while you do it.
This one can actually be hard to do at work. And not just because talking loudly in an office is rude.
It’s just that most people may not share your sense of humor. But try to find a few kindred souls and have a good laugh when you need it.
Keep in mind that merely smiling, or looking at photos of kittens probably won’t cut it. You need to LOL, ASAP, OK? Great big belly laughs. It’ll probably make you take a few deep breathes, too.
10. Accept your limits.
There’s a certain point when grace under pressure … cracks. Even if we are excellent, high-functioning, morally superior (and good-looking and well-groomed, too), we are still human. We have limits.
Denying those limits is a guarantee for stress. Not only that, but it simply doesn’t work. We just get stressed, but never actually exceed our limits.
Case in point: Some recent research revealed, “Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week.” Namely, working over about 55 hours per week delivers no appreciable benefits. And over about 60 hours, your productivity overall will actually decline.
That study blew up one of my all-time favorite tactics. We’ll call it the “I’ll fix this – I’ll just work harder” tactic. It forced me to accept my limitations and to value my time and energy as the precious commodity it is.
I bet I’m not alone. For many of us, the 60+ hour work week is a badge of honor. Until it doesn’t work.
A final thought
Your tactics for reducing stress should be as personal as how you created your stress in the first place. What works for one person may not work for another.
Everybody gets stressed from work. Everybody gets stressed by unrealistic expectations that never get re-negotiated.
In other words, consider this: Your stress is not all that unique. Your stress (and mine) is probably pretty similar to everyone else’s stress.
And maybe that can help. One of the worst parts of stress is how it seems to isolate us. Maybe realizing we’re all a little stressed might help.
Back to you
What’s your favorite stress-reduction practice? Come on, share. We need every bit of help we can get.