Stress

How I took control of my stress (most of the time)

 

A few years back, I was working in a high pressure sales environment. I had to deal with constant stress and pressure. Every day a steady stream of tasks would come in and had to be sorted out and prioritized. Still I had to keep it together, deliver and focus on the job. It was not pleasant.

Here are some lessons and a method that I learned.

Positive and negative stress

When you are under high pressure, you can get tunneled senses. You close your mind to many external signals and focus on one thing at a time. You are present, you really live in the moment. You can be at the top of your game. The pressure gives you energy and focus. It is a positive and energizing stress.

However, if the pressure keeps piling up and you can’t get out of it, you can loose all your means. Or even burn out if you are exposed to regular stress over a long period of time with no time to relax. It is a negative and tiring stress.

Staying in the green area (positive stress)Stress dial

To avoid burning down all your energy when you are under pressure it helps to be clear on what you need to focus on, until the stress goes away. Understand why you are stressed and what you need to do to make it go away is key.

For example, if you have to finish one specific task for the pressure to release, you can put your full attention to it. If you have many ongoing tasks and it’s sheer quantity that stresses you out, focusing on less tasks helps keeping it together.

In short, to stay in the green the key is to take control of your stress rather than being overwhelmed by it. If you are not prepared to handle pressure, you risk focusing on specific tasks that will not release your stress when finished. So you need to be prepared before the stress hits you. This is why a strategy and some helpful tactics are needed.

Strategy

The strategy I use is to keep control in stressful situations. And tactics help keeping the amount of stress under check.

Let’s look at the strategy in more details. It’s a two step process.

The first step is to set life goals. Then shorter term goals. I wrote a post here explaining how to do so: Get absolute clarity in your life and achieve your goals. This step does take time. Time is needed to set the right goals for you.

Clear goals help dealing with a lot of different situations. And clarity makes it much easier to focus and stay confident under pressure. This is the backbone of the strategy.

The second step I follow is to focus on my goals when under pressure. Any task that is not bringing me closer to my goals is dropped. That means I can get rid of the clutter pretty quickly. Tasks that don’t fit with my goals, but can’t be dropped completely are either postponed or delegated.

Achieving specific goals set in advance means that the stress goes away when I’m done. This is how stress can be kept under control.

Tactics

A helpful tactic to achieve my goals and focus on them under pressure, is using the Pareto principle which states that 80% of your results are caused by 20% of your work. This helps getting rid of superfluous tasks and getting results quickly by focusing on the right tasks. Pressure is lowered and distractions kept at bay.

Talking about distractions, they are a well-known productivity killer. Staying focused on the task at hand involves getting rid of distractions. A big help is to turn off email and app notifications. When working on an important project, to keep productivity at the maximum, you can turn your phone on silent. Tell other people that you need some distraction-free time. Close the door. Getting things done quickly means stress affects you for a shorter amount of time.

In terms of reducing stress, there are several other methods, but this is what I use when needed:

  • Go for a walk. Leaving the environment that stresses you out, the physical act of walking and enjoying nature around you are very good ways to reduce stress.
  • Do some breathing exercises. This will trigger your body to relay and calm you down.
  • Think about your achievements and what you are grateful for. This gives you perspective on the current situation and make you feel better, in turn reducing stress.

Keeping track

Finally, one other thing that helps is to keep track of your progress. This reminds you that you are moving forward with your tasks and will give you more confidence. It will also give you time to reflect and take a step back. Perspective helps to stay more relaxed.

By using the method above, I now feel much more relaxed in my life. I can keep control and perspective on what I’m doing.

Life is more pleasant.

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