Helpful advice on how to manage work-related stress

Feb 19 2013 - 5:03pm


Workers, managers and leaders all have it. Entrepreneurs, especially, feel its crippling power. It's part of nearly every workplace and it won't be going away soon. Stress comes from unrelenting pressure to survive, succeed and to make others happy. Do you have it? Is it killing you?

In 40 years as a businessman, I have experienced the pain of stress daily. Sadly, it's a fact of life for me as a serial entrepreneur and investor. Sometimes the strain has been overpowering to a degree that I wondered where and when I would find relief.

Often we feel overwhelmed when we hear about layoffs or budget cuts. Or perhaps someone in authority set expectations that are too high, totally unrealistic and will never be achieved.

Does doom and foreboding enter your mind and heart when you know your performance will not meet rising expectations? Does stress appear when there's more work to be done and not a glimmer of increased job satisfaction? Or could the constant pressure to work at optimum levels be intolerable?

Stress management is one of the most important skill sets a successful businessperson should learn.

I am happy to share what has worked for me.

* Note the warning signs of excessive stress at work. Ask these questions: Am I going home at night exhausted and anxious? Do I worry nonstop? Is sleep a distant memory? Am I irritable and harsh with my family? If you are sensing that pressures are off the chart and causing you harm, don't ignore or dismiss what you are feeling. It's time to act and protect yourself.

* Focus attention on your physical and emotional health. Regular exercise and adequate rest are essential. Take a walk every lunch hour. Go to the gym before or after work. Go to bed at the same time each night and avoid stimulants after dinner. Develop your mind. Read great books or take classes in topics you enjoy. Establish new friendships with associates who are supportive and empathetic. They can be wonderful listeners who will allow you to let off steam and relieve stress. And don't forget humor. When used appropriately, it can relieve stress during the day.

* Establish priorities and stay organized. I reduce my stress when I prioritize every task. Make a list of tasks that are critical and tackle them in order of importance and urgency. Do the high-priority items first. If you have something particularly onerous to accomplish, put it at the top of your list and complete it quickly. Once it is done, the biggest part of the pressure is gone.

Breaking projects into small steps is also a stress reducer. When a large project seems crushing, develop a step-by-step action plan. Focus on nailing one step at a time, rather than trying to "eat the whole elephant at once." Share the load with others by delegating responsibility to team members who are happy to assist. Be willing to compromise when it makes sense.

* Manage your time well. Consider developing a balanced schedule that allows you to analyze time, responsibilities and daily tasks. Strive for balance in work, personal time, family life, social activities and personal interests.

This effort requires lines in the sand that won't be crossed and a high level of self-discipline. Avoid overcommitting to anyone and scheduling too much into the day.

* Be an optimist. Be positive. When you can manage to do this, stress flies away. Eliminate self-defeating behavior.

Negative thoughts exacerbate pressures and reduce your energy, hope and motivation.

Don't allow your mind to dwell on what you can't personally repair. Fix your attention on what you can control and improve.

* Invite your manager to reduce stress. It's in a manager's best interest to reduce stress for everyone in the workplace. Respectfully encourage your manager to communicate honestly and transparently about company challenges, to define roles and responsibilities clearly and allow you to have a voice in decisions on scheduling, workloads and deadlines, as well as to provide opportunities for career development and act on organizational values.

For further information on this topic, please read "Bring Your Life Into Balance" by Segal, Smith, Robinson and Segal from This toolkit teaches skills for managing overwhelming stress and emotions.

If you have other solutions for managing stress, I'd like to hear your ideas as well.

Contact Alan Hall at or via @AskAlanEHall.

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