Think back to when you have performed at your best. Was it when
- There was no pressure, everything was laid back and you were living in easy street
- When the pressure was on to achieve some challenging goals which stretched your ability and stamina to the limit?
Most people perform best under pressure. So we should not run from the tougher challenges: we should embrace them. They help us learn and grow. They build resilience and may give us a claim to fame when we succeed. Pressure, within limits, is good.
Even if pressure is good, stress is not good. So what is the difference?
The difference between pressure and stress is control. When we are in control we may feel under pressure, but we will not feel too much stress. But when we lose control, suddenly we feel stressed (even if we are not under pressure at the time). This guides us towards managing stress: find a way of getting in control. Here is how we can gain control and manage stress when times are tough:
- Recognise the problem and deal with it early. The longer you leave it, the worse it gets. Denial is often a good coping mechanism for dealing with past set backs. It is not a good mechanism for dealing with current reality.
- Find something you can control. By definition, you can not do anything about things outside your control other than worry. And worry gets nowhere. So find what you can do and focus on that: it may be something small and simple like seeking advice from a friend, or finding out more about what is really going on. You may only have a small rock to hang on to, but find it. A small step is better than no step.
- Get support: this can be emotional support from friends and family. It can also be advice and support from colleagues in finding a way forward. As grandma used to say: “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
- Work on Plan B, even if Plan B means testing the job market and seeing if there are other opportunities inside or beyond your current organisation. As long as you only have a plan A, you are both vulnerable and dependent on outside events and other people. As soon as you have a plan B, you have options, you have more power and more control.
If you are consistently over stressed in your work life, then you probably have the wrong boss, wrong role or wrong company. Or possibly all three are wrong. At which point you need to take control and take responsibility for your destiny: go elsewhere or learn to live with what you have. We always have choices, even if the choices are uncomfortable.