Stress affects each person differently. Some people’s nervous systems are more sensitive to triggers, such as a noisy office. Others hardly seem to notice the bustle around them. But top performers who work in environments with constant sources of stress are at increased risk of burnout. Think C-suite executives, first responders, stock brokers, and healthcare professionals.
With so much at stake, it’s a challenge for professionals in these workplaces to keep their emotions in check. However, you don’t necessarily have to be in a top position or serve on the front lines of the military to experience this. Almost anyone can face a stressful work environment if there is a gap between perceived resources and demands. Still, there are ways to regulate your emotions while meeting performance expectations, and it helps to learn from those who do it every day. Here are some tips for doing this:
Focus on your goal
Stress is distracting in many ways. When it happens, you can feel overwhelmed. You may find that you tend to respond to a stressor in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. This is your the body’s way of responding to something it believes to be a threat.
Your nervous system, including your brain, may go into overdrive, trying to escape the situation or shutting down. Each of these reactions has biological and psychological reasons. However, they can prevent you from doing your job.
In stressful work environments, you may not be able to prevent your heart from racing. But you can learn to process your body’s reactions. An important way to do this is to focus on your goal. That mission can be something that needs to be done now, such as responding to a crisis, or something for the long term, such as building a successful business. Focusing on whatever drives you can help you achieve your performance goals in stressful times.
Doctor Benjamin Domb is an award-winning orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and the founder of the American Hip Institute. During the operation, his patient’s life is in his hands, but he remains calm by focusing on his performance. He says, “Most stress comes from worrying about the past or the future. One of the things I love about being a surgeon is that you have to be totally focused on the present and the task at hand. the operating room there is no room for the mind to wander and become stressed with regret or fear.”
Staying focused no matter the situation can benefit anyone working in a stressful environment. Taking the time to slow down and notice what is needed right now can increase the likelihood of good performance and successful outcomes.
Give yourself time to process
When someone comes to you with intense emotion, it’s natural to want to respond with similar feelings. People, especially those with high levels of empathy, are hardwired to mirror the emotions of others. However, letting your immediate feelings get the better of you can reflect badly on your performance.
No doubt frustrating and demanding work environments can take their toll. It also doesn’t help if you have stressful situations outside of work, such as caring for an aging family member or children. Still, reacting angrily to tense work situations is not the ideal way to deal with it. It is often better to take a moment to process what is happening. Taking a step back can give you time to approach a highly fraught situation strategically.
Depending on the situation, you may be able to give yourself a few hours to process your emotions. For example, before answering an email or calling back, take the time to decide the best solution. Other scenarios, such as real-time conversations, may not offer much room. But you can take a deep breath and ask the other person questions to give yourself a moment.
Recognize your triggers
Not everyone has the same level of stress tolerance. This means that you and your colleagues may not view identical stressors in the same way. Maybe one of your co-workers thinks it’s good to work several days in a row in 14-hour shifts. But it doesn’t work for you. Instead, this type of planning affects your ability to provide first-class service to your customers.
Recognizing that too many long shifts are affecting you in a negative way can help you come up with solutions to mitigate the effects. You can talk to your boss about ways to work out a different schedule. If this is not possible, you can try to give yourself enough free time when you are not at work. This may mean renegotiating some family obligations or limiting how many personal demands you try to meet.
For others, stressful workplace triggers can be too many competing responsibilities. This scenario can happen to managers regardless of their rank. And that’s because leaders tackle problems from multiple angles. They have direct reports and superiors who come to them for solutions. Setting boundaries, tackling each issue individually, and expressing the need for support are ways to stay calm under pressure.
Keep your cool
You can’t always control a stressful work environment. Anyone who works in healthcare and public services can attest to a frequent imbalance between resources and workload. Some jobs also naturally involve responsibilities where the stakes are high. This pressure can generate physical and emotional reactions that prevent acceptable outcomes.
However, you can learn to recognize when your body is responding to stress and pay attention to why. Techniques like focusing on your mission help you get through troubling situations. Keeping a cool head isn’t about eliminating all stressors, it’s about changing the way you deal with them.