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How To Keep A Clear Head In A High-Stress Work Environment

Stress impacts each person differently. Some people’s nervous systems are more sensitive to triggers, such as a noisy office. Others barely seem to notice the hustle and bustle around them. But high achievers who work in environments with constant sources of stress are at an increased risk of burnout. Think C-suite executives, first responders, stockbrokers and healthcare workers.

With so much at stake, it’s challenging for professionals in these workplaces to keep their emotions in check. However, you don’t necessarily have to be in a top leadership position or serve on the front lines of the military to experience this. Nearly anyone can face a high-stress work environment when there’s a gap between perceived resources and demands. Yet, 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 on how to do it:

Focus On Your Purpose

Stress is distracting in many ways. When it happens, you can feel overwhelmed. You might find you tend to respond to a stressor in one of three ways — fight, flight, or freeze. This is your body’s way of reacting to something it believes is a threat.

Your nervous system, including your brain, might go into overdrive, attempting to escape the situation or shutting down. Each of these responses has biological and psychological reasons behind them. However, they can prevent you from doing your job.

In stressful work environments, you may not be able to stop your heart from racing. But, you can learn to work through your body’s reactions. One key way of doing this is by focusing on your purpose. That mission could be something that needs to be done now, such as responding in a crisis situation, or something more long term, like creating a successful company. Focusing on whatever drives you can help you reach your performance goals during stressful times.

Dr. Benjamin Domb is an award-winning orthopedic surgeon specializing in Sports Medicine and the founder of the American Hip Institute. During surgery his patient’s lives are 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 that I love about being a surgeon is that it requires being entirely focused on the present, and on the task at hand. There is no room in surgery for the mind to wander and be stressed by regret or anxiety.”

Remaining focused, regardless of the situation, can benefit anyone who works in a high-stress environment. Taking the time to slow down and note what’s needed in the moment can increase the likelihood of high 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. Humans, especially those with high levels of empathy, are hardwired to mirror the emotions of others. However, letting your immediate feelings get the best of you can reflect poorly on your performance.

Undoubtedly, 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. Yet, responding to tense work situations with anger isn’t the ideal way to handle them. It’s often better to take a moment to process what’s happening. Taking a step back can give you time to approach a highly charged situation with some strategic thought.

Depending on the situation, you may be able to give yourself a few hours to process your emotions. For example, take time to decide on the best solution before you reply to an email or return a phone call. Other scenarios, such as real-time conversations, may not provide much space. But you can take a deep breath and ask the other person questions to give yourself a few moments.

Recognize Your Triggers

Not everyone has the same level of stress tolerance. This means you and your coworkers may not view identical stressors the same way. Perhaps one of your peers is okay with working 14-hour shifts several days in a row. But it doesn’t work for you. Instead, this type of schedule impacts your ability to provide top-notch service to your clients.

Recognizing that too many long shifts influence you in negative ways can help you think of solutions to mitigate the effects. You might talk with your boss about ways to work out a different schedule. If this isn’t possible, you could try giving yourself enough downtime when you’re away from your job. This may mean renegotiating a few family obligations or limiting how many personal demands you attempt to meet.

For others, stressful triggers in the workplace could be too many competing responsibilities. This scenario can happen to managers regardless of rank. And it’s because leaders deal with problems from multiple sides. They have direct reports and superiors coming to them for solutions. Setting boundaries, tackling each issue individually, and expressing the need for support are ways to remain calm under pressure.

Keeping Your Cool

You can’t always control a high-stress work environment. Anyone working in healthcare and public services can attest to a frequent imbalance between resources and workloads. Some jobs, by nature, also involve responsibilities where the stakes are high. These pressures can trigger physical and emotional responses, which prevent acceptable outcomes.

However, you can learn to recognize when your body’s reacting to stress and pay attention to why. Techniques such as focusing on your mission help you work through upsetting situations. Keeping your cool isn’t about eliminating all stressors but changing how you manage them.


Original post Forbes

By Serenity Gibbons

Photo by Nathan Cowley

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