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We've all been there, walking into work with a plan of action and the next thing you know you're putting out fires left and right, the phone is ringing off the hook, and "omg, this has to be done right now." Your body goes into flight or fight mode, your stomach turns into knots, and that delicious lunch you packed goes unnoticed because you just can't stomach the thought of food.
I knew my responsibilities and priorities would shift when I moved into a managerial role, but I naiively thought "How different can this be?" I wasn't quite prepared for the sheer number of projects that now fell on me to organize, the number of interruptions in person, on the phone, and by email, and the number of "emergencies" that arose daily.
I'm a perfectionist and thus hate leaving tasks unfinished and dropping the ball on projects. And when that happens? Well, let's just say that I learned to manage stress and anxiety quickly. I already acquired a strong grasp on managing my social anxiety and performance anxiety, but the anxiety I experienced from things constantly being thrown my way threw me for a loop and nearly led to a break down.
Here are 5 (and a bonus!) tricks I use on a daily basis to manage my stress and anxiety to keep a clearer head and a better work-life balance:
1. Is This Useful?
This tip comes straight from Dan Harris's 10% Happier podcast. I spent a few days researching podcasts about mindful leadership, and came across 10% Happier. The book by the same name was familiar to me, but I was delighted to see that Dan Harris also moderates a podcast. The episode that drew me in was #130 with Janice Marturano, titled "How to Be a Better Boss" and I immediately subscribed to the podcast. During the introduction of one episode, Dan made a statement that hit me exactly when I needed it: when you're stressed, anxious, or starting to panic, think to yourself "Is this useful?" Is your reaction to the situation helping you at all, or is it making it worse?
I went straight back to my desk, grabbed a sticky-note, wrote "Is this useful?" and stuck it right on my computer monitor where I can see it each and every time a situation stresses me out.
It works, each and every time. I take a deep breath, repeat it to myself like a mantra, and then move forward. Because really, in the grand scheme of things, is that stress or anxiety worth it?
Meditation is my saving grace during busy days or anxiety filled moments. The practice clears my head and alleviates my anxiety whether I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, focus on being present, or sit in a quiet space for 10+ minutes to listen a meditation on the Headspace app. One of my favorite ways to meditate at work is take a walk and listen to the Parks & Nature single on Headspace. While most meditations require you to sit and close your eyes, the design of this meditation allows you to walk with your eyes open, focusing on your body, your senses, and the space around you. I typically listen to the 10 minute meditation and head back to my desk refreshed, renewed, and little less anxious.
3. Get Away
The bonus of becoming a manager in a customer service department is that I have a bit more freedom to walk away from my desk for a few moments. When things are especially stressful or I feel frustration taking over my body, I walk away from the situation. I take a walk around the building, refill my water, or take a trip to the bathroom. It's usually enough time for me to take a few deep breaths, clear my head, and think of a better way to handle the situation.
No matter the situation or how much work you have piled on you, it is essential to step away when you feel stress or anxiety hit. Staying behind only allows the stress and anxiety to build until it bubbles out of you, sometimes in a less than professional manner.
Stop. Stand up. And walk away for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Talk to Your Manager
I hit the jackpot with my new manager: she's a stress management coach after hours. She believes in work-life balance, eating healthy, enjoying the outdoors, and taking everything in stride. She actively listens, provides feedback, and assists in working out plans to move forward. On more stress and anxiety filled days, I send her a quick message asking for a few moments, and we sit to discuss the situation and steps to take to resolve it.
I realize that my situation may be rare in the corporate world, but I'm willing to bet that if you approached your manager to discuss pain points or situations that cause stress and anxiety, he or she will be amenable to listen and provide advice.
5. Listen to Something
My office environment is quite noisy during working hours. My desk is in an open space without even a cubicle to shield me, and sometimes it's all I can do to block the noise and concentrate on my tasks. Phones ring off the hook, people talk shop (or often hold non-work conversations), interruptions abound, and I lose focus instantly.
While I let my team know when I'm concentrating on a project, I can't send out a mass email to the company to inform them I need silence. My next best trick is to pick up my phone, plug in my headphones, and play music or a podcast to drown out the noise around me. Podcasts are best when my tasks are repetitious or mindless. Music, especially classical or TV and movie soundtracks without words, are perfect for projects that require thought and concentration. It keeps me focused, on task, and less involved in unnecessary chatter, which subsequently reduces my stress and anxiety.
Bonus Tip: Get Organized
Trello is a great resource to organize the things you need to do, what you're currently in the middle of, and what you've accomplished. This site is so simple, you can even create your own on a spreadsheet (my favorite is Google Sheets so I don't have to worry about saving it each night). Simply documenting everything I need to do and then moving tasks to the "In Progress" or "Done" columns takes a huge weight off my chest. I see exactly what I need to do without worry of losing a sticky note and the "Done" column is visible proof of my daily accomplishments.
Today's corporate world constantly churns out business, keeping workers busier, and often more stressed and anxious, than ever. Keep these tricks in mind the next time you feel stress and anxiety nudging its way into your brain and body. Your mind will clear and you'll take on projects effectively and efficiently, and who knows, you may even avoid a dreaded burnout.