Project management is stressful. Perhaps managing a project to a successful outcome is not stressful every minute of every day, but there are definitely times—like pulling an all-nighter to solve a problem before shipping on time—that definitely qualify as high stress.
Now it may seem like stress is your friend. It helps you focus attention and block out the extraneous. And from a physiological perspective, that is what stress is for—it is self protection; fight or flight. Discovered by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon and discussed by Dr. Neil Neimark MD in the Body Soul Connection:
“When our fight or flight response is activated, sequences of nerve cell firing occur and chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into our bloodstream. These patterns of nerve cell firing and chemical release cause our body to undergo a series of very dramatic changes. Our respiratory rate increases. Blood is shunted away from our digestive tract and directed into our muscles and limbs, which require extra energy and fuel for running and fighting. Our pupils dilate. Our awareness intensifies. Our sight sharpens. Our impulses quicken. Our perception of pain diminishes. Our immune system mobilizes with increased activation.”
But, stress takes its toll on our bodies and eventually on our ability to be effective project managers. Here are just a few of the long term consequences of stress on your health:
- Sleep disturbances
- Digestive problems
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty focusing attention
“Psychological stress can also worsen the symptoms of many medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurological conditions, chronic pain, and addictive disorders” according to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD.
A personal friend of mine is Austin-based leadership trainer Chris Douglas, who has some excellent and easy to implement suggestions on dealing with stress and reducing its impact on your body and your performance. Improving Performance Under Stress is a seminar offered by Chris through Quest Seminars. You can receive a free copy of Chris’s Managing Stress in Challenging Times by registering your email on his site.
Chris recommends the following activities to help project managers handle stress and keep it from disrupting their effectiveness:
- Breathe! Deep breathes from the diaphragm.
- Timed Breathing —Inhale to the count of 4, hold for 7, exhale to the count of 8
- Find some humor in the situation. Laughter is a great stress reliever
- Try a mini-meditation—just one to two minutes of relaxed breathing or guided visualization can help you relax
A few other simple stress relief techniques you can practice in the office:
- Get up and move around five minutes out of every hour.
- Stretch your shoulders and lower back.
- Do some neck rolls—drop your chin slowly forward then roll your head to your right shoulder, back, left shoulder and front.
- Relax your hands and wrists. Interlock your fingers and rotate your wrists clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Finish with a stretch of your hands and fingers.
- If you do not have an ergonomic office, try to get one. It really helps.
Don’t forget to exercise routinely and take a real vacation every year!
Now be honest – is stress getting to you on your projects? Do you have some stress relief techniques that help keep you healthy and focused? Please share!