Handling pressure and stress at work

“Very few tigers are found prowling around the floors of a law firm,” says Rebecca Tipper in the second of Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co LLP’s blogs on the Mindapples programme.

Developing our skills with Mindapples

By: Rebecca Tipper    04 Dec 2015

Mindapples is a not-for-profit business which aims to teach us how our minds work so we can apply them more effectively to the things we do, allowing us to work both more smartly and more sustainably.

While last month’s session centred on ‘Training your Mind’, the latest Mindapples workshop focused on helping us to handle pressure and stress – something many (if not all) of us can relate to.

As those working in professional services know, pressure and stress come with the territory; it can be challenging to balance busy personal lives with busy work lives and keep on top of client demands. It’s precisely why WLG has brought Mindapples in to work with us.

What is stress?

Stress means different things to different people, but for the purposes of the session, we understood stress to be:

“A particular relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing or exceeding his/her resources and endangering his/her wellbeing”

As part of our survival instinct, stress and pressure serve to narrow our focus on what is perceived to be an immediate threat. This can be helpful – if we’re being approached by a tiger, it makes sense to think of nothing but ‘how am I going to escape death at the hands of this tiger!?’. Unfortunately for us, we’re yet to evolve for our environment and modern psychosocial issues give us the same primitive fear response. Over time these can have extremely negative impacts on our wellbeing.

While there are, fortunately, very few tigers found prowling around the floors of a law firm, other stress triggers abound. Imminent deadlines, demands from multiple clients, mounting workloads, concerns about issues at home… I could continue. Three common stress factors are:

  1. Pursuit of a vital goal – “I’m really motivated to do this but I don’t think I am able to”
  2. Social evaluation – “It will look bad if I can’t do this”
  3. Lack of control – “I don’t have the resources to complete this task”

What can we do to manage stress?

To summarise the tips from Mindapples speaker Andy:

  1. First up, recognise the signs of stress. If you don’t realise you’re stressed, how can you do anything about it? This might be psychological signs (short temper, lack of focus) or physical signs (headaches, difficulty sleeping).
  2. Think about the typical coping strategies (exercise, rest and leisure, healthy diet) but don’t get caught up in the vicious cycle of feeling more stressed because you don’t have the time or energy to use these strategies.
  3. Stress is a feedback loop so you need to need to deal with the threat, not just the symptoms. A more lasting approach than point 2 is to deal with the source of the problem, or how you perceive it. For this you need to think about your resources.

The earlier definition of stress referred to “taxing or exceeding your resources“. When you’re under pressure, your mind does a cognitive appraisal – do I have the resources to deal with this? Yes? Fantastic, you’re likely to be motivated and up for the challenge. No? It feels like a threat. Cue pressure and stress.

But if we think about our resources, the “objects, personal characteristics, conditions or energies” at our disposal to meet a challenge, we can start to overcome the stress.

What resources do I have?

Identifying our resources and answering the question ‘What are you good at?’ proved to be much trickier than listing the things that cause us stress. This challenge is amplified when we’re stressed, as we’re focused on the tiger and forget the various things at our disposal that we could use, such as:

  • Knowledge
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Relationships
  • Asking for help
  • Talking to someone
  • Family
  • Delegation

Three things we can do:

  1. Gain perspective – ask someone and see what you might be missing
  2. Protect your resources –figure out what you rely on, the skills you need to keep updated and the people you rely on
  3. Build your resources – The right time to plant a tree was twenty years ago – invest now to make sure that when the pressure hits you’re ready for it.

The workshop was a great chance to share different perspectives on stress and pressure. Learning tips to help manage pressure, and also realising that almost everyone goes through the issues, was highly beneficial.

Read the article here