Whether you’re a heart surgeon, a corporate lawyer, or a financial manager, you may find yourself struggling to survive a high-pressure job. Maybe you experience frequent travel demands, unreasonable deadlines, lack of growth potential, a hostile work environment, or all the above. While a little bit of stress can help you do your best work, too much can put you over the edge. It’s normal to feel temporary pressure, like when there’s a looming deadline. But when the stress at work becomes severe and consistent, serious physical and emotional symptoms can develop. That’s why it’s important to develop techniques that will help you to not only survive but also thrive in a high-pressure work environment.
Cultivating supporters at work can be invaluable—especially in a high-pressure job. These people are in your corner and can provide a much-needed sounding board as well as friendship and advice. Remember that potential allies can come from all levels within the organization. Consider managers, colleagues, support staff, and even vendors or suppliers. Once you’ve identified potential allies, work on building those new relationships, and nurturing new ones.
Take short breaks
Contrary to popular belief, taking breaks at work actually makes you more productive. Studies show that occasional breaks replenish our energy, improve decision-making, and enhance productivity. Depending on how you spend them, breaks can also make you more creative and attentive. One approach involves blocking out a couple of planned 15-minute slots on your calendar, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Then find something active you can do with this time like taking a walk, running an errand or going for coffee with a co-worker. The critical thing is to step away from your computer so that you relax your focus and allow your mind to drift.
Look for outlets
Operating in a high-pressure job means that you need to find healthy ways to fight stress. One of the most obvious methods is exercise. If you are rolling your eyes, one study conducted by Pedro Saint-Maurice, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute, shows that it’s never too late to start. Not only that, but research participants who exercised anywhere from two to eight hours a week had a 29% to 36% lower risk of dying compared to people who rarely or never exercised. Meditation is another great technique to build resilience to stress. All you need are at least 5 to 20 distraction-free minutes to sit in a relaxed position and clear your mind. Some fantastic apps that can help include Headspace, Breethe, and Insight Timer.
How does that saying go—that laughter is the best medicine? Well, according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s true! Laughter has great short-term benefits, including enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating your heart, lungs and muscles, and increasing the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and promote muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. Over the long-term, laughter may also improve your immune system, relieve pain, and improve your mood. Try sharing a joke, playing a prank on a co-worker, or posting funny cartoons around the office. You’ll not only help to reduce stress for yourself but also those around you.
If you feel overwhelmed and overworked, setting healthy boundaries in a high-pressure job can help. One way to do this is by setting limits. This could mean ignoring work email in the evenings so you can focus on family time or asking for advance notice of work-related travel so that you can plan your vacation. Another way to set boundaries is to delegate. If you are expected to do the work of 50 people and feel overwhelmed with projects, chances are you’re not delegating enough. Fortunately, this is a skill that can be developed. Learn to let go, trust your team, and play to their strengths. Most importantly, practice saying “no.” Choose some easy, low-risk situations like saying no when your waitress offers you dessert. Go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and say no out loud ten times. It sounds crazy, but it helps to build your “no” muscle.
Surviving in a high-pressure work environment involves devising innovative techniques to help you cope. If, after implementing these survival tactics, you still feel underwater, it might be time to ask yourself whether this is the right job or career for you. Take a step back and examine your situation from a different perspective. Ultimately, you are the CEO of your career. Make the most of it.
If you’ve been feeling stuck and aren’t sure it’s time to make a career shift, download my free guide: 5 Signs It’s Time to Make a Bold Career Change!