Managing Stress When Work Goes Crazy

Over the past few months, I have found myself coaching several leaders facing major transitions and stress. Financial pressure has resulted in one or more rounds of restructuring. With fewer resources, achieving their business targets requires more from leaders who remain. With so much uncertainty in the environment, these leaders are often left wondering what will happen with their jobs, who else they will have to let go, and whether the company will still be a place where they want to work.  

If you find yourself in the midst of a similar situation or other big changes, your mind may be racing with thoughts like these:

There's too much going on. How much more can we really take on?

This is crazy! These changes don't make sense. How much will they really help?

How will my future be affected?

It would be a waste of time to bring forward my ideas right now — everyone is too distracted.

We’ve lost sight of who we are as a company in the midst of all this change.

Our leaders seem misaligned; we get conflicting messages.

Fear and uncertainty can increase your stress, keep you from engaging fully, or realizing that you can still have an impact no matter how out-of-control everything seems.

young stressed overwhelmed man with piles of folders on his desk

young stressed overwhelmed man with piles of folders on his desk

3 Steps to Stop Negativity

Even the most optimistic leaders can have difficulty staying positive when operating in a high stress environment each day – especially if their bosses are also too overwhelmed to give them support.  If you find yourself rattled by stress and uncertainty, try one of these strategies:

Focus on what is certain (i.e., what isn't changing).

In times of upheaval, we tend to focus more on all the changes and unknowns and overlook what is constant. For example, even if your company alters some aspects of how it operates, the overarching values and priorities may still stay the same. Help your team notice these things to give them more stability.

Manage your energy.

Even if you can’t see an end in sight in the near term, minimize the impact of tough spots in your schedule — the tasks and events that you know will sap your energy — and make sure you proactively infuse some positive energy to fill the tank. That could mean a morning workout before a stressful meeting or a few quick, deliberate breaks throughout the day. Take a look at your own agenda for the week right now. What energy-drainers do you see? How can you counteract them? Even something as simple as packing some healthy snacks to keep you from hitting the vending machines during a late night at the office can make a big difference.

Build a support system.

Even if your boss can’t offer much support, connect with colleagues and other people with positive energy so you can lift each other up. When your own optimism drops, tap into the energy of this group to help you recharge and refocus on what is working.

Change is always going to be part of your work environment, but remember that you can take small steps every day to help you feel more centered and in control. You'll find more ideas on managing your energy during difficult times in "Staying Engaged," part of the Leadership EDGE SeriesSM.