Under Pressure

Inevitably we have stressful days at work. I don’t care what your job is, sometimes you deal with a frustrating client/customer, or have something you built go awry, or just start the day in a bad mood and have it get worse.

The worst part is that in a lot of cases, this stress is caused by nothing in particular – no major problem – just a series of small setbacks that accumulate with no intervening relief to ease the tension.

Of course it’s days like this that have you anticipating retirement. But for most of us, retirement right now isn’t an option because we have that gap.

There are a variety of techniques for managing the gap, but what about managing stress at work, and immediately afterwards?

What works most for me is actually thinking about the meaning of life. Or perhaps a meaning of life – there might not be just one.

When I’m really stressed out, but have at least a few minutes to think – I’m under mental pressure but not in an emergency situation – I repeat the following mantra:

Humans are on earth to be put under stress, and the purpose of their life is to handle that stress with as much dignity as possible.

Grandiose, right? But it works as a mantra. After all, if the purpose of life is to handle yourself with dignity, you don’t want to get upset by little setbacks.

Under pressure, I want to lash out at the people nearby if they offend me in the slightest. I believe this is a natural tendency: you hear about the businessman coming home and kicking the dog. I feel terrible about it just a few minutes later, of course, and this reaction to stress is actually what I like least about my job – I’ve noticed it subtly altering my personality.

However, repeating my mantra, I think “I am under stress. And I’m not handling myself with dignity. If I was judged by an objective observer, they’d think I was an asshole. So take a deep breath and calm down.”

I think this exercise can turn distress – stress that breaks you down – into a form of eustress – stress that motivates you and forces you to grow.

It works, if you’re diligent about taking a step back. In this way, work becomes an opportunity to explore your own relationship with pressure, and prove you can deal with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly thankful for this pressure – I’d rather I didn’t have to deal with it – but at the same time, it becomes more purposeful. Just another education that work can provide.

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