Stress may test you, but it doesn’t have to taunt you

Stressed woman in work

By Virginia Barber, Insights Learning and Development

In today’s working world, it’s not enough to simply be busy.

We have to be doing the right things in the right order all while showing the alignment between our individual output, and the goals of our teams and wider organisations. Phew!

So, when stress rears its head, as it inevitably will do, we must find ways to curb it, if not totally kick it to the curb, to maintain the consistent levels of effectiveness that fuel our careers and the faith that our colleagues and clients have in our abilities.

Imagine you have a handful of priorities that need to be addressed in the next hour. If one of those priorities had the power to completely derail the other priorities if you didn’t manage it properly, you’d surely give it the attention it needs, right? Well, that priority is stress. You might not write it on a post-it-note, but to keep it in check you have to manage it just like you would any other project on your to-do list.

There’s no magic system where you can turn the productivity dial up and turn the stress dial down, but there are a few ways to develop your self-awareness and resilience to keep the weight of stress from becoming overwhelming.

Stress tests us, but it doesn’t have to taunt us. Here’s what we recommend at Insights to keep your stress in check:

Recognise your individual stress signals

There’s nothing worse than being blindsided by something you could’ve seen coming if you had just kept an eye out for it and stress is definitely the type of thing that can sneak up on you. Because we all have different strengths, weaknesses and interpersonal styles, stress looks different for every person just as productivity does.

During times of stress, even our strengths (when overused) can do us a disservice. For instance, a sociable and inclusive extrovert may talk over people and become overbearing when they are stressed. Similarly, a reserved and thoughtful introvert may become even more inwardly-focused and may seem standoffish when they are stressed.

It’s different for each person, but if you know how you show up on good days and bad days, you can see the stress signs coming and side-step your typical bad-day behaviours before it becomes a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone

The best way individuals can support their careers, teams, and organisations is by knowing and showing their authentic selves. Sometimes we stress ourselves unnecessarily because we try to be everything to everyone, which is a futile and exhausting task. While this dynamic can come from the good intention of wanting to please all of our stakeholders, it can quickly get individuals into a situation where they over promise and under deliver. Instead of being everything to everyone, it is better to be the best version of yourself to the people who need you to be you.

At Insights, we believe understanding our individual personalities on a deeper level can empower us to navigate our responsibilities and relationships more easily. We know that anyone can do anything, but we also know that if you’re constantly stretching yourself in areas that don’t come naturally to you rather than sashaying to the sound of your strengths, you’ll get tired and stressed very quickly.

Prioritise the right tasks by checking your perceptions

In our professional lives, we’re all accountable to get things done, but it is how we perceive what is needed of us and how we think we should get it done that impacts our ability to do so. Stress can strike when you’re caring about the wrong things and they’re getting in the way of your ability to get the right things done. To not get trapped in an endless cycle of activities that aren’t aligned to desired results, you have to know yourself and what’s required of you. To help, try taking some time to check what you’re perceiving in the context surrounding a project.

For instance, ask yourself what biases could I be bringing to this task that could be hindering my productivity? Is there anything I’m assuming has to be a certain way when it really doesn’t’? By looking at your workload through this lens, you can develop strategies to work smarter, not harder.

Stress is one of those facts of life and regardless of where you are in your career, and what capabilities and competencies you have acquired, the ability to manage stress can always benefit your professional life. C.S. Lewis wrote, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”   Ultimately, your ability to boost productivity and curb stress is about making space to understand yourself and being intentional in all that you do.

About the author

Virginia Barber is a writer and editor for global learning and development company,  Insights Learning and Development. She is passionate about sharing people-focused stories and snippets from the working world that illustrate the connection between personal development and organizational success.

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