Stress management and Project Management: how to manage stress in crucial moments of the project

stress and pm

The job of a Project Manager is undoubtedly one of the most stressful, as this position is directly responsible for the success or failure of a project.

Some project managers believe they can handle and deal with the high level of stress, making mistakes, and some even ignore or refuse to recognize that they are stressed.

The stress experience for a Project Manager not only impacts cognitive and behavioural performance, but can also have a negative impact on personal health, well-being and family life.

It is difficult to be able to change the amount of stress one can experience on a daily basis, but it is possible to change the way one deals with it.

It is important to be able to manage stress before it becomes increasingly difficult to cope with.

Sources of stress in project management

Just imagine: The project’s due date is in 2 weeks and there are still some critical issues to be resolved. To make matters worse, one of the key members of your team has been hospitalized. The client is not satisfied and the management requests a daily review. And this is just a tiny example of the many scenarios that a project manager can experience every day.

The sources of stress in project management can be many and different.

Here are some of the most common sources:

  • Unrealistic chronology and schedules
  • Working in a system and organizational structure where project management does not exert full control over resources
  • Lack of resources – human and/or instrumental
  • Proliferation of virtual teams and intercultural influences that are difficult to manage
  • Dispute between groups in the organization
  • Project environment

A project manager’s first step must be to recognize that he is under stress and then develop self-discipline before learning and practicing what are the techniques for dealing with stress.

Learning to successfully manage stress begins with a willingness to take an honest look within ourselves.

Techniques for managing stress in project management

Many techniques can help to manage stress. No technique is unique to everyone and no technique will be able to completely eliminate stress. Each person has to decide what will work best for himself or herself.

This suggests that techniques should be explored to determine what works best for us and, once you find some strategies that work, the commitment to practice them is the key to dealing with stress.

Having understood this concept let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used techniques to lower stress levels.

Stress management techniques: Detachment or disassociation

Let’s look at the example of a meeting where the project manager is extremely frustrated and considers it all as wasted time.

In this case you can use detachment or dissociation, mentally “controlling” the meeting, letting your mind wander towards a more enjoyable image.

It’s a technique that may seem nonsensical, but manages, instead, to relieve stress effectively.

stress and the pm

Stress management techniques: Monitoring the “what if” thinking

During a stressful event or meeting, it is natural to end up in the “what if thinking”, where one wonders “What if we had done this in the past, could we not be struggling right now?”

As is evident, this form of thinking implies a focus that is not geared towards the present.

An alternative to this form of thinking is to focus on the present by asking yourself this question, for example: “It’s Thursday, it’s 3:17 p.m., I just received bad news about the project. What can I do in the next hour to take a small step towards improving the situation?”

Basically, don’t focus on how we got there, but on what to do to get out of it, even with the smallest of steps.

Stress management techniques: Developing strong conflict resolution skills

Additional stress is added to working life when reacting to a stressful situation by avoiding or denying it. The same is true when you overreact to a stressful situation.

Both approaches increase the level of stress.

For this reason, it is important to develop the ability to resolve conflicts, possibly by following a special training course.

Stress management techniques: Knowing when it’s enough

Knowing when enough is enough and staying away from debates is a powerful solution to some situations of high stress.

A natural but often unproductive approach to solving a situation is to discuss with another person the sense and reason for one’s point of view. These situations are strong sources of stress.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t assert your beliefs, but you should know when to stop.

If you continue to want to try to be perceived as “right”, you are just increasing the level of stress and you are wasting useful energy.

Stress management techniques: Look for a paradoxical component of the situation

In the midst of a situation that is rightfully stressful, you may find that you’re taking yourself, or the situation, too seriously.

Behavioural psychologists would say that we are engaging in a “catastrophic” behavior, in which we take a singular and negative event, and we find ourselves believing, for example, that the entire project is condemned because of this serious problem.

An antidote to this way of doing and thinking is to find a paradoxical cognition to cling to, something that will put stress and worries into perspective.

Other useful techniques for stress management

  • Priority: create a hierarchy of priorities and assign each activity according to its urgency and importance. Focusing primarily on urgent and important tasks and not overwhelming yourself by worrying about the whole workload.
  • Avoid extreme reactions: why hate when it comes to a little distaste? Why generate anxiety when you can be “just” nervous? Why be depressed when you can simply be “just” sad?
  • NLP implementation – Neuro-Linguistic Programming – for reducing stress: NLP provides a variety of excellent tools and concepts to enable individuals to deal with or change negative stress into positive resources. With NLP you can change overwhelming and immobilizing feelings into powerful motivating drives.
  • Physical exercise: take a break and plan some physical activities, whether it’s jogging, cycling, hiking or other outdoor activities to relieve stress.
  • Meditation: Meditation and breathing exercises have proven to be very effective in controlling stress.

Stress Management: conclusion

Finally, we can say that there are various ways for a Project Manager to reduce stress. Each of these ways can bring benefits and everyone needs to test them to understand which ones are best suited to them.

It is obvious that success in stress management does not only depend on the type of technique used, but it is also the commitment of the person applying the techniques that makes the difference.

The same strategy may not work for everyone.

You have to take an honest look at yourself and determine what is most practical and what makes most sense for you.

Engaging and striving seriously to reduce stress can improve your happiness and health. That’s why it’s worth trying.

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