5 ways to control your stress levels
Managing one client and one project can be stressful. Managing multiple clients and multiple projects can at times feel overwhelming and see your stress levels sky rocket as you try to manage the never-ending to-do list, changing and sometimes conflicting priorities and of course, there are never enough hours in the day.
You try to plan your time and your tasks effectively, perhaps using tools to help you stay on track and ensure you don’t miss a deadline, but still, at times you can’t see the wood for the trees, you don’t where to start, you don’t know where to turn and you don’t know how you are going to get it all done.
Your sleep patterns are suffering, you find yourself reaching for the stimulants (coffee, alcohol, sugar and carbs) and you find yourself spiralling out of control. What seemed at first like a well-oiled machine is turning into an unruly robot and as you sit staring at your project plans you feel an overwhelming sense of despair. You’re in the hands of your clients and you just want to regain some control, back on top of the workload and able to achieve what you need to achieve. Your stress levels are rising day by day and you want it all to go away.
Firstly, I’ll point out that not all stress is bad. Healthy levels of stress are actually good for us, they get us out of bed in the morning, they keep us motivated and they allow the adrenaline to kick in to help us hit that milestone and reach that goal.
It's when stress hits unhealthy levels that it starts to become a problem. Unhealthy levels of stress can vary from person to person and situation to situation, but typically include our sleep being affected, our mood altering, our patience and our resilience decreasing and we can begin to withdraw from our hobbies and interests and begin to make unhealthy dietary and lifestyle choices.
Ultimately, the most important thing we need to get back on track is our sleep. When we sleep less, we are unable to properly process overnight the events from the day and each morning we start to feel a little more out of control and a little more stressed.
The juggling act begins – but we begin to start dropping the balls...
The more tired we become and the more stressed we find ourselves the more we try and cram into the day. The less breaks we take and we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of trying to achieve more by doing more, but actually by switching off less, we are in fact becoming less productive.
The less productive we are, the more we have to do, and the more we have to do the more stressed we become. The more stressed we become, the less productive we are, and the more balls we begin to drop.
So how do you keep the balls moving, the plates spinning and the wheels turning?
Here are five ways to claim control:
- Stop, Notice, Move Forward – When you notice a feeling of stress and overwhelm, stop, breathe, notice how you are feeling and then when you have some perspective, move forward. Being in the chaos and not being able to see what truly needs to happen only slows you down and stresses you out even more. Learn to break the cycle to help you gain perspective, identify your priorities and alleviate some of the pressure.
- Switch Off – Take regular breaks, ideally at least five minutes an hour away from your desk and take a proper lunch break, away from your desk! In the evenings, switch off your tech at least two hours before bed. The more you can switch off physically the more you can switch off mentally and the better your sleep will be.
- Step Outside – Spend as much time as you can outside. The natural daylight and the fresh air will do wonders for your mental and physical wellbeing. Step off the tube a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way. Park at the far end of the car park and walk a little further. Walk around the block, or to a park at lunchtime and repeat on your way home. You’ll instantly start to notice the difference.
- Stop the Stimulants – Maybe you can’t function without your coffee in the morning, stop the caffeine after lunch. Don’t reach for the sugar in the afternoon as your energy starts to dip, drink a glass of water instead. The quick stop at the pub on the way home? Limit your alcohol and ensure at least no alcohol at least two hours before bed. Stimulants trick the body into thinking that it doesn’t need to naturally produce the happy hormone, the more you consume, the less the natural energy releases and the more stimulants you need. Start to break the cycle.
- Smile – Find something that makes you smile, watch a funny movie, do something you enjoy (even if you don’t feel like it), spend time with people that make you feel good, listen to your favourite upbeat song, look at photos that bring back happy memories. The more you can smile, even if you have to fake it at first, the more happy hormones you will release and the better you will start to feel. A great and simple way to help you gain perspective and get yourself back on track.
Stress doesn’t have to beat us, we just need to learn how to maintain control.
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The slide set and recording of the APM Introduction to Programme Management webinar presented by Alan Macklin from the APM Programme Management SIG, 23 February 2017.
Programmes are risky undertakings and require proactive risk management, but programmes are not large projects, and programme risk management is different from project risk management.