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Less Stress Isn’t Always Best – Tips for Handling Stress as a Project Manager

Stress is a part of work. You may experience it from external activities such as deadlines, time constraints, disconnects in communication, and/or errors in work processes. There are also internal stressors that come from challenges to your personal feelings and beliefs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s NIOSH report found that 40% of workers reported their job as very or extremely stressful.

A similar finding by the American Institute of Stress further suggests that stress is also highly personalized and varies greatly. As an example, a survey reports that some police officers might find having to complete paperwork a more stressful situation than pursuing criminals. Others may find less stress in the paperwork. As a project manager, you might find that coordinating activities with people is more stressful that multi-tasking a number of complex projects. In contrast, a co-worker may enjoy the interpersonal communication aspects of the work over project monitoring. Some individuals thrive in a high stress environment. Others prefer a more laid-back approach to work. Less stress isn’t always best.

The first step to managing stress is awareness. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and the areas that produce stress for you. This helps your become better able to find ways to manage activities and beliefs that stand in the way of a more peaceful work experience. Managing your stress helps creates a calmer work environment, a healthier lifestyle, and smoother relationships. The overall challenge for managing stress is investing time into learning how to manage your particular brand of stressor and by finding ways to maintain your stress levels when presented with situations that challenge you.

Here are a few ways for a PM to create less stress in a hectic workday.


Gain Control…of Yourself

One of the things that causes stress is not feeling like you have control of a situation. When you feel stressed or frustrated, take a few moments to identity the situation that is stressing you out. Think of a few ways you can gain some control of the situation or of your emotions about the situation. For instance, if you are feeling overwhelmed with the workload, take a moment to document where you are at with a checklist. Then, make manageable deadlines from the most important to the least important items on that list. If you are feeling overwhelmed with your workload, but are fearful you will lose your job if not completed, then make a list of discussions you might have with your boss to better manage expectations. These activities help to manage external stressors. For internal stressors, create some time for personal development to help identify what causes you stress and how you might look at the situation differently. You are better able to manage stress when you feel as if you are in control of some part of your day and the way you think of the situation.


Manage Your Expectations

Another factor for managing stress includes having expectations that are in line with a situation. You experience more stress when your expectations do not match reality. For instance, you will become more stressed if your expectation is that your boss is going to help you set goals, but you are left to manage activities on your own. A realistic view of situations and people helps you reduce stress even if you do not like the outcome. This is also true for managing the stress when actions do not match words. How many times has someone told you that you will get a raise, or a promotion only to leave you waiting for years without any such action? Another example would be a co-worker telling you they will get work done at a specific time, only to find that they are not done with their part of the project. There is a difference in stress level when you allow frustrations within yourself because of the fractured actions of others. If you rely on actions instead of words as a guide, you lower your stress level because you are not disappointed when words and actions don’t match.


Maintain Gratitude for What You Have

When stress begins to take a toll on you, the status of your health may be compromised. Being highly stressed becomes the norm and your mindset starts to lean toward the negative thoughts of work. Take time in your day to find things to appreciate. Incorporate little things into your routine that you can be grateful for like a walk, lunch with a friend, or even a 15-minute break to watch your favorite comic on YouTube. Even small events that you do, like smiling at a co-worker, or thanking someone, help remind you that you impact the work around you. Gary Vaynerchuk gave an admittedly gloomy example in a recent interview. He told viewers that something he practices is to envision that someone calls him to tell him a loved one was killed. He admits it is a rather dark, but this exercise re-wires his perspective back to where he can remember what is most important. When you maintain gratitude, you help keep your mind wired toward the things you love and appreciate about your life.


Take the Emotion Out of the Response

Emotions are important to express, but when working on reducing stress you’ll be better able to think through a situation than feel. One helpful way to set emotions aside in order to deal with stress is to consider that situations and people are not good or bad, or wrong or right. They are just different. When you start to feel stressed or emotional take a step back and go to the facts. Facts are not judgmental. They are grounded in verifiable observations. Consider the two statements “He is incompetent,” and “He did not get his work done.”  When the later becomes your way of thinking you spend less time looking for fairness and validation. You focus more on solving the problem of how to deal with the fact that your employee did not get his work completed. Reducing this fear for validation of feelings can reduce stress and also give the added bonus of more managed time.


Give Yourself a Break

Harvard Health published an article about understanding the stress response. Stress causes your body to trigger a flow of stress hormones that produce physiological changes. This response is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It is a survival mechanism to help protect people in life-threatening situations, but the body also has the potential to overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening. When you experience either external situations where you feel the need to protect yourself, or internal stressors that suggest you are not good enough, your body puts you through a physiological reaction. Taking a break and relaxing your stress level helps to maintain your physiological reaction. You can also relax the fight or flight by giving yourself an emotional break from thinking of yourself as inadequate.

Stress happens. You work better and feel more peaceful when you find ways to manage the unhealthy external and internal stressors. Take time to maintain yourself in challenging work situations. When you are able to manage stress, then stress will not not manage you.


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Written by Dr. Lynette Reed

Writer, researcher and advisor on human potential for personal and organizational development, Dr. Lynette Reed has mentored people from in businesses, not-for-profits, schools, allied health agencies, chambers of commerce, government and churches. She has taught courses on team building, leadership, ethics, world religion and world cultures. Her current literary contributions include an executive summary paperback titled, Fixing the Problem: Making Changes in How You Deal with Challenges, as well as book contributions, articles, guest radio appearances and a series of children’s books with Abingdon Press. She is also a co-founder and board member of the Institute for Soul-Centered Leadership at Seton Cove. Lynette holds a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality, Sustainability, and Inter-Religious Dialogue and a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Contact her at expectations2reality@icloud.com.

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1 Comment
  1. Thanks for the article. Well worth my time to sharpen the saw. All good points.

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