Project management is about changing the world. Sometimes, change is hard. That’s where stress management techniques come into play. If you ignore stress, you’ll explode at the first helpless victim you encounter. That is an easily avoided mistake.
For some people, retail therapy is their preferred stress relief mechanism. It’s fun to go shopping for books, pick up one of those $0.99 Amazon Kindle books or get some new clothes. Unfortunately, shopping is ineffective at addressing the root causes of stress. At best, retail therapy gives a momentary relief.
Understanding The Need for Stress Management Techniques
Are you one of those people who think that stress doesn’t matter? That high stress levels are somehow something to be endured or suffered through, damn the cost? Let me challenge that perspective by sharing the cost of workplace stress.
Four Workplace Stress Statistics That Hit Home
- Work is the most important source of stress.
Statistics Canada found that 62% of highly stressed workers described work as their main source of stress in a 2010 study.
- Stress is a risk factor for numerous diseases.
Health Canada reports that stress is a known risk factor for heart disease. Stress levels also impact weight gain and weight loss.
- Stress is a major cause of absenteeism.
The American Institute of Stress reports that “An estimated 1 million workers are absent every day due to stress.”
- Workplace stress lowers work quality.
According to American Psychological Association: “20% of employees reporting high overwork levels say they make a lot of mistakes at work versus none of those who experience low overwork levels.”
- Paying For Stress Management Techniques Is A Wise Investment
Making the case for investing in stress management programs is easy. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, each dollar invested in stress management yields $3.40 in future savings.
The price of failing to learn stress management techniques is high. Even if you are somehow comfortable neglecting yourself, what about your team? As a project manager, you have a responsibility for your project team. Without them, you have no ability to deliver the project on time. As you continue to learn and practice these methods, please share them with your project team.
Stress Management Techniques That Make A Difference
As you read about these stress management techniques, choose one to implement today. As I wrote this article, I implemented technique seven – learn stretch exercises. Reading about these methods alone will not reduce your stress. You need to put these ideas into action in order to feel better.
Is that fair? Good! Let’s get started.
1. Sleep More.
If you live in North America, you probably don’t get enough sleep to maintain your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the problem in stark terms: “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.” Adults generally require seven to eight hours of sleep each day.
Your sleep success starts with an effective evening routine. Sleep, like most aspects of health, is a matter of habit. By developing a reliable routine, your sleep quality will gradually improve. In my experience, an evening routine of twenty to thirty minutes works best. Here is what I recommend:
- Set a bedtime (yes,that actually makes a difference).
- Start your evening routine thirty minutes before you go want to sleep.
- Avoid using computers, TVs and other electronics during your evening routine.
- Start a journal (even a five sentence journal) to clear your mind each day.
Following these tips will make a difference to your sleep. Improving the quantity and quality of your sleep directly reduces your stress levels. Unlike retail therapy or other bad habits, improving your sleep is free too!
2. Exercise More.
Sitting at a desk all day is bad for your health. There’s a reason that standing desks have become so popular in recent years. No discussion of stress management techniques would be complete without discussing exercise. Consider all of the ways that lack of exercise harms your health.
Neglecting exercise increases project stress in a multitude of ways. Without the injury prevention benefits of fitness, you will become fragile and liable to injury over small tasks Without the endurance building impact of exercise, you will tire more easily. Even worse, your cognitive performance will decline significantly. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Tip: For an in-depth discussion of the mental impact of exercise, read Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.
Here are a few simple ways to include more exercise in your daily routine at the office and at home.
- Take the stairs at your office building.
- Go for a short walk during your lunch break (especially in the summer).
- Switch one car errand a week to walking.
- Do a set of 5 or 10 push-ups in the morning or at night. I took a break from writing this article to do 10 push-ups and it gave me a boost!
- Research your company’s health benefits. Many large companies offer discounts for health clubs and gyms.
3) Read Fiction
Immersing yourself in a well told story is one of life’s great pleasures. When I look at my recent reading history, I find that some 80% (or more) of the books I read are non-fiction. Don’t get me wrong – I love to learn from non-fiction: history, biography, business, writing and more. Reading fiction offers new vistas. There is also a deep and unique pleasure that comes from reading fiction that cannot be matched.
Did you know that there is a business case for reading fiction? In 2012, Harvard Business Review reported that, “… fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness.” Simply put, reading fiction helps you to understand people better. Armed with that information, you now have permission to buy some novels and enjoy yourself!
Do you need fiction recommendations? I’m so glad you asked. Here are some of my favourite novels to get you started. My recommendations include plenty of science fiction and fantasy but there are other titles as well.
- “1984” and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
- “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien
- “Foundation” by Issac Asimov
- “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller, JR.
- “Dune” by Frank Herbert
- “Around The World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne (my favourite 19th century novel)
4) Take 3 Breaks During The Work Day
Working non-stop throughout the day is rarely a good day. Taking short breaks is an indispensable part of every professional’s toolkit of stress management techniques. Previously, I have written about how to use the Pomodoro Technique to alternate between work and rest. Today, I’m going to share my recommendation on taking at least four short breaks to manage stress.
For purposes of this example, I am assuming that you work a traditional 9-5 work day. Once you understand the principle, you can adjust this recommendation to better suit your situation.
Taking a morning coffee break is good for you (the coffee itself is optional). For a few months, I had an enjoyable routine of joining my colleagues for a walk to a local coffee shop. Not only did I get a chance to stretch my legs, but I also got out of the office for a few minutes.
Yes, I’m actually listing lunch as a break! Let me go further – I recommend you physically leave the office. When you grab lunch and sit at your desk, you will be interrupted with work related questions. The benefit of securing a mental break from your efforts is eliminated when you eat at your desk.
By 2pm or 3pm, you may find that your energy levels are starting to drop. To a degree, feeling tired by the late afternoon is unavoidable. That collapse in energy can be frustrating when you have a major project task to complete.
Rather than continuing to grind away on your work, I recommend taking another short break. If possible, walk around outside or include some other light exercise. In addition to the physical benefits, stepping away from your desk for a few minutes also yields a fresh perspective on your work challenges.
5) Learn Stretch Exercises
Sitting at a desk for extended periods causes wear and tear on your body. “Economy class syndrome” is an extreme example of the problems associated with extended periods of sitting immobile. Happily, this set of stress management techniques includes a few key stretch exercises you can do at your desk.
Rather than explain stretches, I will direct you to a few key resources.
- Stretches All Desk Workers Should Do Today. Greatist.
- Cubicle Stretches. Los Angeles Times.
- Exercise At Your Desk. WebMD
Take a few minutes to implement these stretch exercises at the office – your body will thank you. Learning a few stretches is one of the best ways to reverse the tension caused by sitting at a desk all day.
Question and Action:
Which of these stress management techniques have you put into action?