5 Simple Tips to Help You Manage Stress in Your Workplace
The author of this article is EPAM Product Manager Sindhu Nair.
In this article
Does hearing the Teams ringtone make you anxious? Does the meeting reminder sound make you worry about missing a meeting? Do the words “I need to talk to you. Quick call.” send a chill down your spine?
If you answered “yes” or “maybe” to any of those questions, you may be experiencing burnout. In this article, I share some techniques to help you overcome this and manage stress in the workplace.
The symptoms outlined in the introduction are experienced by many individuals in real-time, with half of all workers encountering them daily. This is primarily attributed to being overwhelmed by an excessive workload, continuous work engagement, or the attempt to strike a balance between work and home responsibilities.
Before you read any further, I just want you to … breathe. Inhale for 3 seconds and then exhale for 3 seconds. Again, inhale for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds. Better?
Let’s begin then.
How to define stress and its causes
To start, I am going to cover stress management as a soft skill. Yes, you read that right.
Soft skills are skills related to communication abilities, interpersonal skills, things that are not specific to a job profile, but that play a crucial role in shaping the career of an individual in a workplace. Stress management is an important soft skill because it concerns a person’s ability to cope with high pressure situations and emerge intact.
To learn how to manage stress, let’s first consider the basics of what stress is and what causes it.
What is stress?
According to WHO (World Health Organization) stress “can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.”
What causes stress?
Stress is a very subjective state and it is not the same for any two people.
It is natural to be stressed in challenging situations, such as: participating in an exam/interview; preparing for a client presentation; joining an appraisal call; overall workloads; family issues; financial problems; working with a difficult boss; pandemic issues; recessions; health issues; and so on. The differentiating factor between people who are stressed and those who are over-stressed – perhaps to the extent that it has shut them down completely – is how they respond or cope with it.
How to cope with stress
Stress is an inevitable part of our everyday lives, but if we learn how to cope with it, it becomes less daunting and less damaging to our mental and physical well-being.
Let’s explore some ways to manage stress in the workplace.
1. Task planning
Yes, I am talking about lists. Perhaps the best way to start your day at work is by spending the first 20 minutes making a list of the things you want to do that day and prioritizing them.
You can use the To-Do list from MS Outlook for that purpose. Organizing and prioritizing your tasks for the day not only gives you a feeling of control but also provides satisfaction when you check them off.
2. Team building
Don’t just have calls to discuss the work and its status. Spend some time getting to know your teammates beyond work. Join calls 5 minutes early and talk to each other. Get to know the person beyond what they are working on. Learn about their hobbies, ask about their family, check on their health, and discuss some current affairs (light ones that spark joy, not ones that result in misery or political fights).
Humans are social beings. When we socialize, we feel united, and there is nothing better than being united as a team at the workplace.
3. Open communications
Let’s consider 2 situations:
- You have a colleague who is rude to you and shoots you down every time you suggest something.
- You are being assigned more and more work without regard for your existing workload.
Both are realistic scenarios that happen with some frequency. If you don’t communicate and address them, you will be under tremendous pressure.
Now imagine this:
- You have a colleague who is rude to you and shoots you down every time you suggest something. — You can set up a 1-to-1 call with them and try to understand why they are shooting you down. You can discuss a better way of communicating their rejections that is more rational than rude. And it works!
- You are being assigned more and more work without regard for your existing workload. — You can raise a flag while work is being assigned and provide facts about how many tasks you are currently working on and that you are already at full capacity. Doing so can make the work assignments much more efficient within the team.
Communicating openly with colleagues and supervisors helps build a rapport and helps manage expectations.
When you foresee a delay in your delivery from the expected date, call it out.
When you encounter an issue that may hamper your work or someone else’s work, articulate it.
When you are not sure about how to proceed with a ticket, check with a colleague or your manager. Let them know that you are struggling, and you will see progress.
Whenever there is a conflict, acknowledge and address it constructively. If that doesn’t help, seek mediation from leadership /HR for resolution.
4. Effective online communication
Talking in person beats every other mode. Other modes of communication mentioned here play an important role for teams that are spread across the globe and have limitations on in-person communication as a result.
Instant messaging (IM):
A: How are you B?
B: Oh, I have been better! (Sigh)
A: Is everything alright?
B: Yes, yes. What do you need?
This conversation seems to tell us that B is either being rude or is uninterested in making small talk with A and wants the chat to end ASAP.
But what if I tell you that B is not feeling well and is not in a position to type too much?
Would you or A have gathered that from this chat? My guess is no.
If, instead of an IM, A and B had a video call or voice call, there would be more tonality to it and A would be able to assess the situation based on how B looks or sounds.
Whenever you want to communicate anything, go for a CALL mode first, then IM, and then email. Sometimes a 2 min call can get as much done as days/hours of following up with emails/IMs.
5. Breaks and relaxation
Most of the time, we are so engrossed in our work that we sit for hours banging our head against a wall trying to fix an issue. It might be as simple as a missed comma or as complex as missed code, but how will our brain find the answer if we don’t give it a break now and then.
Here are 5 techniques that can help us be productive, while incorporating breaks:
1. ”Pomodoro” technique
Pomodoro uses a work interval, traditionally 25 minutes in length. Break your work into pomodoros. After each 25-minute interval, take a short 5-minute break. After completing four intervals, take a longer break of 15–30 minutes.
2. ”Eat that frog” technique
The idea is to prioritize "eating that frog" (completing the most difficult task) to increase productivity and reduce procrastination. It basically means prioritizing and tackling your most challenging or important task first thing in the morning.
3. The two-minute rule
If a task can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This prevents small tasks from piling up and becoming overwhelming.
4. The 1-3-5 rule
Set daily goals by choosing one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks to complete. This helps maintain focus and ensures that a mix of tasks are accomplished each day.
5. Kanban method
Visualize your tasks on a Kanban board (or in Excel if you don’t have access to a Kanban board) with columns like "To-Do," "In Progress," and "Done." Move tasks through the columns as they progress.
I've discussed the importance of coping with and managing stress, but it's essential to recognize that stress isn't always a negative force. In fact, it has played a pivotal role in our evolution, driving us from primitive beings to the sophisticated individuals we are today.
Occasionally, the desire to tackle stress intensifies its impact. Embracing the reality of challenging situations, however, can illuminate a path forward. Acknowledging and understanding stress allows us to navigate difficulties with resilience, ultimately leading to personal growth and development.
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