Stress is one of the most common issues project managers and team leaders deal with on a daily basis. Projects are high pressure environments where you are expected to perform at a high level all the time. Demands from stakeholders, team members and the expectation to meet difficult deadlines are constant – it feels never-ending. Project managers often turn to me for coaching when they near the end of their tether. They feel overwhelmed, exhausted and out of options and know they need to get a handle on their stress, but just don’t know how.
Small doses of stress are good for you as it causes cortisol and adrenaline levels to increase. This makes you more alert, focussed and motivates you to get things done. However too much stress is bad for your physical and mental health. It can lead to anxiety, depression, fatigue, poor eating and sleeping habits, trouble concentrating and increased susceptibility to illness.
It can impact your work performance negatively as your decision-making abilities and judgement are impacted. You are more likely to make mistakes, to feel irritable and lose your temper more quickly. It can lead to a breakdown in your relationships and it will ultimately impact your team as well, reducing their ability to perform well.
It is important to find the right stress coping techniques for you so that you can continue to perform optimally even when the going gets tough. Here are a few proven stress management techniques that can help you.
Stress management techniques
Look after your physical health
Food, caffeine, alcohol and drugs are often used as a source of comfort however they only worsen your situation. Over-eating or eating the wrong things, too much caffeine, alcohol and drug usage are really bad for you. Instead try exercising, even if the gym doesn’t appeal try taking a walk or doing yoga. Eat healthy meals and if you want to nibble try fruit or nuts as a snack. When you feel healthy physically, your mental wellbeing improves as well helping you to cope with difficult situations.
Take a break
Most stressed out people have the “go, go, go” attitude where they feel that if they stop their world will implode as there is just too much to do and not enough time to do it. Taking a break actually improves performance as it gives you a chance to pause, to stop focussing on all the noise going on around you and to gain a new perspective on things. Take a lunch break with friends for a change and take mini-breaks throughout the day. Just 5 or 10 minute breaks will help keep your energy levels up and give you the much needed space to calm your mind.
It is a common theme on projects where project managers and teams take work home with them. They continue to work from home by answering calls, emails and completing tasks. This is one of the hardest habits to break but you need to leave work at work. Make sure that people are aware that you will unavailable once you leave the office, unless it is a life or death situation. Switch off your work phone when you leave and switch off mentally. Relax and enjoy spending time with friends, family or pursuing your hobbies. Don’t think about work or do work after office hours as this will enable you to better cope with workplace issues the next day.
Stop your negative thinking
When life gets on top of you, you automatically increase your negative thoughts. The more negative you become, the more difficult it is to cope with stress and bounce back. When you start to have negative thoughts stop them in their tracks. If you find it hard to do then look for the little wins you had. List them and look for things that you are grateful for. Finally sending out a document you’ve been meaning to send for weeks, a colleague bringing you a cup of coffee, completing a small task, having a supportive family – these are all things that you should note as positive events and something to be grateful for. As soon as you start focussing on the positive, situations stop looking so bad.
Stress can leave you feeling isolated, like no-one will understand or can help you but the truth is there are always people willing to listen to you and support you. Surround yourself with positive people like friends and family. Consider finding a mentor or coach. Coaches are trained to be attentive, supportive listeners whose sole focus will be on you. They will challenge your negative beliefs and assumptions, help you overcome your challenges and help you grow as a person and as a leader.
There are many other ways which can help you manage your stress, the main thing to remember is not to lose your perspective. Don’t let the little things become big issues, and stay focussed on the end goal. Concentrate on one task at a time, and see it through to completion. If your stress becomes unmanageable and starts to affect your work life, home life and your physical health then definitely seek help. People won’t be able to take your stress away but they will be able to support and guide you, giving you the ability to face and cope with your stress.
For more information on coping with stress in a project environment, or to seek advice on coaching please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you working with a team? If so, check out ProjectManager.com’s post on reducing team stress for more information.