Workplace doctor: Learn to cope with growing pressure

Responding to emails and colleagues may seem useful in the short term (making you feel better) but it may just be masking dealing with the true problem at hand.

Powered by automated translation

I've noticed myself getting increasingly stressed and jumpy at work. My workload has increased recently and while I would normally be able to cope, instead I seem to be struggling to stay on top of everything. The emails pile up along with the requests from colleagues and I seem to exist in a state of disorganised chaos. I want to nip this in the bud so what stress-relieving tips would you suggest? AM, Dubai

I think the first positive aspect of the situation is that you have noticed yourself getting increasingly stressed at work and have picked up on a change in your behaviour and overall manner. Unfortunately, we usually find people only notice the signs of stress when these become a real physical or emotional issue. So it is a testament that you have spotted the signs early.

I understand you are connecting this stress with an increase in workload, but feel that normally you would be able to cope. So my first question to you is whether this sudden increase in workload has come as a surprise or has it been increasing slowly without you fully taking the time to notice. We often have this blinkered view that we can increase the demands we place upon ourselves, without realising the cumulative effect it will have upon us. Sometimes we suffer from “Superman Syndrome” thinking we can cope with anything. It is almost like we increase the weight and burden on ourselves, without doing anything to increase our own capacity to manage or cope with the situation.

First of all, this situation is temporary and only a sign that at the moment you are not currently at your best. You seeking advice on managing stress is you beginning to take control of the situation.

My second question is whether there are things in your broader life that are having an effect on your ability to manage your work. Was 2014 a particularly challenging year, have a lot of things changed or are you feeling the effect of cumulative events? For example, do you think your work and life in general has become busier without you doing much to manage this?

Firstly, I would suggest that continuing to fight fires and responding to emails and colleagues may seem useful in the short term (making you feel better) but it may just be masking dealing with the true problem at hand.

In terms of stress-relieving tips, I think the first thing we always suggest is to get some perspective and think about what is really important for you and try to connect back to your purpose. If you feel that your work gives you a real purpose, then how much of what you are currently doing supports that. Otherwise, if your purpose is elsewhere (ie; family) then how much of an effect does this stress and tension have on your family life and is it really worth it?

Secondly, we often are preoccupied with challenges, stresses and things we generally do not want to do, but how much time do you spend doing something that you really want to do? We often describe managers and leaders needing a healthy dose of selfishness. How much time in the week do you spend serving your boss, team, organisation, family or society? How much time do you spend doing something you really enjoy, that will bring you real personal satisfaction? This could be three hours a week of exercise, or attending a book club or making sure you and your partner go for dinner once a week. This positive action, is time you need to rigorously protect, even when you are busy and feeling depleted. A precious and valued experience once a week or more, will have significant effect on recharging your mental and physical battery.

You now need to put some small steps in place and pay attention to yourself and whether you are becoming less jumpy at work. I would also actively seek some feedback and give people around you permission to mention if they notice this change happening again.

Doctor’s prescription:

It won’t take much to get you back on track and remember as demands increase around you, you need to be proactive in increasing your capacity to cope, so the scales do not tip over again!

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School based in the Middle East.

Roger Delves will return next week

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter