Seven ways to manage stress in the moment

Learning environment tied to performance

Stress at work may be inevitable, but there are ways to manage it and regain control after a stressful situation, writes Rebecca Knight in the Harvard Business Review.

Many techniques, such as eating healthy, getting enough rest, and exercising, help reduce stress in the long-term. But 80% of Americans report feeling stressed at work, according to a Nielsen study for Everest College. Bringing anxiety from home-life to the office exacerbates the problem, says Maria Gonzales, Argonauta Strategic Alliances Consulting president and Mindful Leadership author.

The key, she says, is the ability to manage stress in the moment—when striking a yoga pose might not be possible—because reactions to daily stressors affect office relationships and employee reputations.

Knight offers seven tips to keep unexpected workday stress in line.

  • Read yourself. Learn to recognize personal physical reactions to stress, such as a stiff neck or sweaty palms. Stress causes the release of hormones and a quicker heartbeat, compromising your immune system and ability to relax, says Gonzales. The faster you recognize that you are stressed, the faster you can address the root source.

  • Play mind games. Often, simply changing your point of view can calm you down, says Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure and a consultant at Spencer Stuart. Think of an assignment as "an opportunity to move forward" and "use that adrenaline pop" to "heighten your attention, and really apply yourself," he recommends.

  • Maintain an even inner voice. Keep negative thoughts such as, "I'll never be able to do this," at bay. Instead, maintain a logical, calm, positive internal dialogue. Tell yourself, I've succeeded in a task like this before and can do it again, says Gonzales. If facing an unrealistic assignment, calm down before explaining to your manager it will take longer than originally requested to complete.

  • Breathe, breathe, breathe. Deep breaths elicit a physiological relaxation response. Three inhales and exhales help alleviate spur of the moment tension, especially when accompanies by shoulder and neck rolls. "Let deep breathing occupy" your mind instead of negative thoughts, urges Gonzales.

  • Talk it out. Find a trustworthy colleague with whom to share vulnerabilities. Venting helps you regroup, and getting an external perspective may be helpful as well.

  • List the "to-dos." Creating a prioritized list focuses the mind, says Gonzales. Next to each item, write a deadline. Tackle the urgent tasks first.

  • Fake it 'till you make it. Pretend to be calm to prevent your agitation from spreading. "When someone palpably feels your tension, they react to it," says Menkes (Knight, "HBR Blog," Harvard Business Review, 11/5).

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