Deadlines, miscommunication, conflict. Regardless of what our jobs, projects, or responsibilities may be, we all face these things during our careers. If not handled properly, the stress from these issues can expand to other areas of life, quickly becoming unmanageable.
That’s why it’s critical to learn how to manage stress. While I’m not an expert in the field, I have had some experience dealing with stress and have learned a few things along the way. I’d like to share some tips that I have found useful when dealing with stress in my life.
1. Determine the Origin
The first step in dealing with stress is to recognize when you have it and what’s causing it. This is easier said than done. Does this stress arise when looking at the backlog? When talking to a particular person? Maybe it’s happening at home, and work is your escape from it. Whatever the case may be, make sure that you know how it comes about and how to reproduce it. Dealing with a bug or defect is much easier when you know all the steps to reproduce it.
Introspect. Are you stressed? If you aren’t, great! If you are—think about what’s causing it.
2. Catch it Early
Secondly, do your best to address the issue as quickly as possible. The earlier you can recognize and resolve an issue, the less work it will be to fix it in the future, so you’ll save a lot of stress along the way.
The book Crucial Accountability brings up the idea of CPR (Content-Pattern-Relationship), which boils down to addressing an issue with someone before it becomes a recurring problem or affects the relationship. While this principle is used in the context of holding others accountable, it can also be used in other contexts, such as dealing with stress.
It takes self-awareness and mindfulness to see these issues before they become a “problem.” They may be harder to catch in an early stage, but it’s generally easier to deal with them then. Addressing a stressor as soon as possible will prevent issues in the future. Once it becomes a recurring pattern, it’s much more difficult to fix.
If you determined that you had an issue, either with another person or with your environment, think about how far it’s progressed since you first noticed it. It’s harder to spot things early on, but much simpler to address problems that are just beginning. Determine what it is that’s causing the most stress, and go after that.
3. Be Direct
When you address a stressor in your life, make sure you do it directly. It doesn’t do any good to beat around the bush, hoping that the issue will resolve itself.
If you’re swamped at work, talk to your teammates and let them know the circumstances. If you have a strained relationship that’s manifesting itself in the form of stress, have an open conversation with that person and try and settle things with them. Talk to people you trust for advice about how to handle a certain situation.
Once you’ve pinpointed a concrete origin of stress, determine a plan of action for addressing it. If you can’t come up with one on your own, talk to someone who’s close to you and ask for advice.
4. Find Other Outlets
A good practice, although not necessarily a fix for the issue, is to find other outlets away from what stresses you. Whether it be a game, hobby, or exercise, there are many things that can help you take your mind off of problems and process in the background.
If you’re stressed about the amount of work in your life, it’s probably best not to commit to other work. Instead, find a fun or creative way to use your time.
There are many studies that show how exercise reduces stress, and I can speak from my own experience that there’s no better way to forget about my day than to start moving around. It doesn’t matter if it is fast or slow, high or low energy–anything is better than nothing.
If your stress is work/deadline based, you might feel like you have no free time. However, I’ve found that if I take a break, I’m more productive with my remaining time, even though my time to work has been decreased.
Think of some ways to spend your time that are unrelated to the root of your stress. Commit to prioritizing an activity at least once this week, and set some time aside for it right now.
5. Let Go
Sometimes, you don’t have any control over your circumstances, and there is no clear path for you to resolve the things causing stress in your life. If this is the case, make sure that you have those mechanisms in place to cope with issues when they arise.
However, I want to propose another alternative to reacting to the environment:
Don’t worry about it.
You’re in control of your thoughts and emotions. Don’t simply react. If you can do something about the problems in your life, put the work in and resolve the issues. If you truly are helpless, acknowledge the fact that you can’t do anything about it, and stop letting it control you. The Serenity Prayer is great at summarizing this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
While this isn’t an overnight step, it is something that can be learned and honed over time. In order to do that, we need to learn how to manage it in more pragmatic ways.
However, I believe that we can all live stress-free lives if we stop having a reactive mindset and practice letting go of our worries, doubts, and fears.