Reflecting on my 30+ years of my work experience and contemplating what I would have shared with my younger self to do better, handling extreme stress is one learning invaluable I gotten and valued. It is a lie to say that we can escape extreme stress in workplace, we will always get caught in one. Especially those with fast track career. My late father told me that endurance under severe weather will build resilience, stamina and innovativeness among others, he neglected to tell me at what price but I can attest that he is right. Now the most important question is how do we handle, thrive and benefit from it. Coincidentally I wrote this during #MentalHealthDay and hoping this will help readers to not have to choose too much between success in career and mental well being.
Staying healthy physically and mentally is the most important element to help you thriving in extreme stress environment. Extreme conditions in nature such as extreme height or extreme weather requires you to be extremely healthy and you have to practice for it. It goes the same with extreme stress in workplace, you have to have strong physical condition to handle it and know how to handle it while working. For example, your physique needs to be trained to handle long hours of working but at the same time you need to be disciplined with taking a break and ergonomics. There are so many articles and helps in companies, don’t ignore them, use them. Sports / exercises are critical elements to build your bone and muscle strength. Mentally equally important you maintain as superb condition as your physique. Breathing exercises, meditation and mental breaks are all critical to do regularly. Do these before you feel you need them, physically and mentally. Food and vitamin intake is important element too, it is not always about healthy food but equally important comfort food that will help you during extreme stress with minimal havoc to your body. You are unique, only you know the best combination that work perfectly for you and you need years of calibration to reach an excellent balance. Keep a journal what works and what doesn’t.
Handling extremely stressful moment is equally important. As leader and professional and parent, we do not want to always model flight or run from difficult situations. In fight or flight moment, we want to sometime model fight successfully and calmly, to our community, to our team and to our family our children. Otherwise it wouldn’t be too far off if we are called coward. Keep a stress journal to dissect what happen during stressful situations and what are the tools you have deployed.
I developed a routine that involved slow motioned myself to allow myself time to decide which tool to use and then loop back time to check if the tool adequate or I need to deploy more. Some tools to regain balance for me including breathing exercises ( called deep breathing exercises, which you can find in the internet ), smile ( I forced myself to smile through extreme situations as it helped calm me down, apparently it releases neuropeptide, serotonin and dopamine that help alleviate stress ) and mantras ( among of my mantra is that God never gave me more than I can handle, I just need more time ). I have several others such as positive and calm mental picture, I took exercise to help me calm down and of course downtime with Korean Drama even just 5 minutes of it. Lastly, crying it out is another tool I use whenever the emotion is overwhelming, of course using this one in closed private spaces. Taking a break is another tool I sometimes use albeit seldom, You have to figure out what your arsenal and how best to use them. There are many level of extreme stress, you need to recognize which tools work best
Once balanced is regained and you can focused to the next step, start with mapping which ones you can control and which ones you cant. Which ones you can control with help also something you need to map as well. Focus to map on those under your control yourself or with help. Put the rest in parking lot but those you can partially solve with or without help, map them as well as the next priority. Be discipline and write / document these so you wouldn’t be lost. This help you to identify solutions, monitor progress and most importantly calm you down that all is not lost. When you map your issues focus to unpack the issues into no more indivisible elements for example if your issue is you are behind target in your sales, unpack into strength of your pipe line, your hit rate and your cross sell rate. You can unpack each further for example your low than average hit rate, is it because you low visit rate and thus relationship is not well built, you have not good enough knowledge of their needs, your offers maybe do not match their needs or you are unable to close, etc. It would also be good to mark which ones can be resolve short term, mid term and long term, fully and partially.
Every extreme stress situation is invaluable and thus you should not waste a good crisis. To benefit, always do a post mortem and in your journal note your learning. Note about how you can cope with crisis and which tool work. How well these tools work for you. Note on area that you struggle, which tools arent as effective and find development opportunities. For example, if calming you down with breathing exercises didn’t work well, don’t skip it. Ask yoursef whether you need to get better at it and find learning opportunities. You need a lot of weapon and all of the weapons you use they all need to be in good shape, train well. Train ahead need should always be your credo.
Throughout the steps, breathing is important, taking breaks even more and most importantly to enjoy the trial and tribulation of enduring and thriving under extreme pressure. Like Kryn Kusama said it is the experiencing of the climb itself such as moments of fatigue, heartbreak and revelation, that has to be part of the goal. So revel in how you conquer difficult situations.
Lastly, people climbed Everest successfully only do it once in a lifetime. Nobody should subject themselves to extreme pressure continuously, it will do harm to one’s life. As part of your post mortem you should ask yourself a question whether this is temporary or permanent conditions and what you should do if this is something of permanent or regular recurrence. You will need to make difficult decisions to ensure that you will not subject yourself to extreme stress permanently so your quality of life is high. Some occupations are full of extreme stress like surgeons, but even then you have to think about your stamina, know your limit. Stick to it.
Hopefully this article help you reflect for your next crisis. Just remember, this too shall pass ! Happy Mental Health Day !