Project Management

How Project Managers Can Deal with Chronic Stress and Avoid Burnout

Stress has been a close companion of project managers. Stress can make you feel productive and doing a meaningful job, but chronic stress is harmful to your body and can cause burnout. You cannot blame external factors like work overload or society for chronic stress, because sometimes, you yourself are the direct cause of the problem. Deeply rooted habits, beliefs, and perceptions on the inside are usually the inner force that generates more stress than your mind needs. In a post for the PM Perspectives Blog, Susanne Madsen says that high-achievers are most prone to stress and offers four ways to better manage stress:

  1. Make important personal values part of day-to-day work.
  2. Neutralize emotions before making a decision.
  3. Manage energy levels.
  4. Become a compassionate observer.

Love Yourself First to Love Others

Being a high-achiever is exhausting sometimes; you don’t only stress yourself out with a never-ending to-do-list, but you also frustrate others to live with a set of high expectations and unrealistic work standards. While fulfilling goals and having as many achievements as possible can secure your job and status, success is not determined by how many items in your checklist have been crossed out. You can be a goal-oriented achiever, but also live with some values and seek for connections with other people.

One disturbing trait of common high-achievers is that they would freak out were a mistake or an incident to occur. It’s easy to let our emotions take over and overreact, but this only opens the door for more stress hormones to be released. What you should do is to pause for at least two minutes, breathe deeply, and neutralize your emotions before saying or doing anything. Words uttered in angry moments can be like a sharp sword. Along with it, be less judgmental and critical of people all around. We’re not those high school Mean Girls who sit on the grass and gossip to the moon and back about different people. We’re workers who are hired in a professional context, and thus the need for compassion and understanding is essential.

Madsen goes on to talk about the relation between energy levels and stress:

We all have different levels of energy and different thresholds for how much we can handle and it’s important that we learn to respect that. We can for instance have white space in the diary where nothing is planned and learn to not feel guilty about it. Another thing we can do is to identify what our zone of peak performance looks like and then strive to operate within it.

A practical way for project managers to do that would be to reflect on all the activities that tend to drain them during their day and all the activities that give them energy.

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