Work-related pressure can be extra difficult to deal with. Remaining professional when you’re one unread email from an emotional breakdown takes a super-human level of composure. Thinking your career could be on the line if you flop doesn’t make it any easier.
All jobs come with pressure, from dealing with a difficult manager to meeting deadlines to discerning what’s best for a patient. Whatever form yours takes, practice these simple (if not career-saving) skills to show all that pressure who’s boss.
Divide and conquer
Ever avoided a task for so long that you spent more time dreading it than doing it? Sometimes, the anticipation of a task proves worse than the task itself. And even if completing the task ends up being as demanding as it first seems, completing it brings a nice sense of accomplishment.
You can start dividing a daunting task into a series of smaller, doable tasks in the form of a to-do list. Looking at the list, choose a task you can start right away and get to work. Checking item after item off that list will make completing the larger task seem much more possible.
“Context switching” means going from one project to the next before finishing the original task, sometimes with other disruptions popping up in between. But dividing time between projects takes up extra time. For example, when you get back to work on a task after moving on to something else, you have to remind yourself where you left off and figure out the next step. Even waiting till the end of your work day to check your email can keep you from having to switch between tasks.
Ideally, you’ll work on a project until you’re able to finish it before starting the next. Of course, this doesn’t always happen when you’ve got no choice but to juggle multiple tasks at once. But mapping out a schedule or personal deadlines can also help you stay on track. Consider allotting periods of time for whatever you need to work on. You may not finish a project from, say, 2 to 5 p.m. on Monday afternoon, but at least you’re making yourself put a few hours into it.
Also, remember that falling down the rabbit hole of distractions just drags the whole process out, so make an effort to separate yourself from time suckers. Silence your cell, sign out of Facebook — do whatever it takes to focus.
Relaxation techniques can help you keep your stress under control, which can leave you better equipped to address high-pressure situations. Plus, these techniques can benefit your health in many ways, including reducing your blood pressure, calming your heart rate and breathing rate, leveling out your stress hormones, and setting you up for better sleep. All good things.
Deep breathing techniques are office-appropriate tools that you can reach for as soon as pressures pop up. Service men and women, first responders, and athletes all use tactical breathing to relax. It’s simple. You count to four as you inhale, count to four as you hold your breath, count to four as you exhale. Repeat.
Box breathing (aka square breathing) involves the same basic pattern, but you can find a square or rectangular shape like a ceiling tile or computer monitor to “trace” with your eyes as you breathe. Trace one edge of the box as you inhale, the next as you hold your breath, and the next as you exhale.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves inhaling and exhaling as you tense and release muscle groups, starting with the hands or toes. For example, you can start by tensing your hands into tight fists as you breathe in for about five seconds. After that, you can exhale and release your grip until your hands feel totally relaxed. After a few breaths, you tense the muscles in your arms with an inhale, releasing with your exhale. Then, after a few more breaths, you can tense your hands and arms together. You can keep up the inhale-exhale pattern until you’ve tensed all of your muscle groups. If you’re practicing this at work, focusing on tensing just your hands or toes still does the job.
Write it out
A writing sprint is a productive exercise to replace your venting habit. When you get home from work, spend five to ten minutes writing down whatever comes to mind about a situation. Don’t overthink it. It doesn’t even matter if you’re writing complete sentences. The goal is to put your internal monologue into writing, stopping only when time runs out. When you’re finished, read it. Thoughts often don’t seem as overwhelming when you see them in writing. This exercise can also help you pinpoint the source of whatever pressure you’re dealing with.
Keep a positive perspective
Just as important as recognizing how you feel about a situation is learning to deal with the negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk sounds like this: I’m not capable. I let them all down. I’m going to get fired. The more you repeat statements like this to yourself, the more you’ll believe them.
When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, put a positive spin on each statement. Here’s what that sounds like: I’ve got this. I wouldn’t have been hired if I weren’t capable. Yeah, it seems like I disappointed them, but I did the best I could in those circumstances. That’s what matters. I’m not going to get fired for this one thing. And even if I’d lose this job, it’s all in God’s hands.
Putting situations into perspective, in general, can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. Recognize what you can control as well as what you can’t. Doing your best is enough, and your best can change from day to day. Plus, what seems super important right now probably won’t matter as much in 10 years.
Remember, keeping a positive attitude and managing stress outside of work counts for a lot, too. That means exercising, eating well, spending time with people, engaging in hobbies, and practicing gratitude. Gratitude (like saying a quick prayer to thank God for the good in your life) makes you happier and more content. And if work-related pressures still feel like too much to handle, consider enlisting a mental health professional to help you cope with your specific situation.