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Managing Pressure At Work

Pressure in the workplace may present itself by encouraging you to stretch beyond your comfort zones, or it may be in the form of excessive workloads and expectations that seem to stretch you too far. Either way, your perception and management of that pressure is what can make or break you, resulting in your success or demise.

We all respond to pressure differently, and occasionally it can get the better of us. Think of those periods when you're burning the candle at both ends, you miss your morning work-out, you've skipped lunch and get to the end of the day feeling as though you've only just scratched the surface of your 'to-do' list. If you don't snap at a colleague you may end up taking it home for your partner and/or children to deal with. Sound familiar?

When we feel extensive pressure at work it can lead to overwhelming emotional feelings which bypass the logical part of our brain (neocortex) and head straight for our limbic system ~ the reactive part of our brain that often acts before thinking. During the emotional response, the brain releases a cascade of chemicals/hormones (cortisol and adrenalin in particular) and our body responds with shallow breathing, increased heart rate and an elevation in blood pressure. Meanwhile, the logical part of our brain isn't invited to the party and we are left with emotional outbursts, poor decision making, and low tolerance. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be the case. If you change your perception of pressure and learn to manage your amygdala, you'll increase your emotional agility and breeze through those tumultuous periods of turbulence unscathed.

How to Thrive Under Pressure
  1. Acknowledge and accept that there are going to be times where you're under the pump and remind yourself that you have the resources to meet every challenge thrown your way. Believing that you have the capacity to meet every challenge actually improves your chance of doing so, and is the foundation of self-efficacy. If you don't have the skills, recognise that you can either develop them or find someone who can support you.

  2. View challenge as opportunity. Carol Dweck's concept of a growth mindset suggests that when we are facing challenges, rather than viewing them as a negative experience, view them as a positive opportunity for growth. Look at the challenge or pressure as an opportunity to learn and the chance to demonstrate your resourcefulness.

  3. Make time for recovery. If you are continually burning the candle at both ends, the impact on your physiology can become detrimental to both your physical and mental health. Are you switching 'off' throughout the day to reflect and fill your own tank? Do you have outlets for social, psychological and physical well-being? The rational part of your brain ~ specifically your prefrontal cortex ~ has a limited amount of fuel, and if you're not taking the time to refuel, you're in for a world of hurt. Physical activity has been shown to positively increase your ability to manage pressure and bounce back from failure. Make time for that run or schedule in a walking meeting. Breathe.

  4. Engage a mentor. Find someone that you can share your frustrations with, bounce ideas off of and who can offer perspective. We can all get caught up in 'doing' however, with blinders on, we may neglect to get any traction. Having someone who can provide insight and listen will ensure that you not only stay on course, but thrive during those periods of pressure.

  5. Employ self-compassion. Too often we either forget about our needs or we become our own harshest critic. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that everyone else is dealing with pressure and challenge, just like you. Have you taken a risk that didn't pan out or made an error of judgement and failed? Well done! If you haven't taken risks or made mistakes you're not developing. Ask yourself what learning can you take from it and then move on!

Remind yourself that if you're not feeling pressure at work, you're not growing. View that pressure as a positive, garner those resources and make time for the important things. Decide what work is aligned with the big picture and make that work your priority. Breathe and acknowledge that we're all in this together.

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