Workplace stress: five ways to reduce it today

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Here’s a possibly controversial statement: stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is such a thing as too much stress, granted, but a lot of the damaging impacts of stress come from how we react to it, rather than the stress itself.

Stress is actually the body’s way of preparing us to perform at our best according to psychotherapist Rebecca Howard. “Start to think of it in that way…reframe your stress response into ‘I’m getting ready to do well’, and your performance levels will rocket.”

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study asked 29,000 people to rank their usual stress levels, and the effect that they thought stress had on their health. They were then monitored for eight years. Those that believed stress was bad for their health – and experienced high stress – were 43 per cent more likely to die in that period. Those who felt a high level of stress but did not think it negatively impacted on their health were the least likely to die out of all the participants – including those who reported low levels of stress.

It’s a very compelling argument for reframing your view of stress. Here are some simple methods you can use to channel your stress and keep it under control:

1. Recognise you’re feeling stressed

The first step in managing your stress is acknowledging that you are stressed. It gets you in the right mind frame to deal with it. “At the point we start to feel that we’re out of control, we start to fight the stress response,” says Howard. “But what we can do instead is transform the stress response into something that is helpful to us by accepting it and acknowledging that we don’t get stressed about something unless we care about it.”

2. Know why you’re stressed

 By understanding why you’re feeling stressed, you’re able to channel your feelings more effectively: “Stress gives you heightened feelings, heightened awareness and heightened energy, and you can put it to good use.”

3. Know your goals

Identify what you want to achieve. Think about how you can make it happen. That will give you more focus on the tasks you need to get done.

4. Avoid black and white thinking

When you’re stressed, you can start thinking in absolutes. This is faulty thinking – it can result in a loss of perspective. “The trick is to be aware of this and step away from it,” says Howard.

5. Don’t isolate yourself

People tend to isolate themselves when they’re swamped with tasks, but those that do well tend to be more willing to accept help from others. It also pays not to fear failure, says Howard: “Mistakes are little scars on our careers, but they actually help us learn our greatest lessons.” 

Learn more about wellbeing in the workplace at the APM Women in Project Management Conference on Thursday 26 September where Dr Clara Cheung from the University of Manchester will discuss her research Measuring what works: workplace well-being of project professionals.

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 5th Aug 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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