As a parting gift, 2021 attempted to throw me off balance by chucking me out into the job market. While it was indeed a surprising turn, it shifted my focus from the highly productive working mode to something that felt like long-term contemplation and reflection mode.

Job searching proved to be the most exciting and insightful activity in the last few years. I’ve learned so much about the world, people, markets and psychologies while being interviewed by recruiters and HR people that it might be worth dedicating a separate article to it. Today, however, I want to think about stress.

I was asked about my stress management skills during almost every interview I’ve had. I couldn’t help noticing how central this skill seems to have grown since my last interviews back in 2020. Unemployed, having no certainty of the future, tired and more – there seemed to be a variety of stresses I was expected to be exposed to and manage.

During my second job interview, I realised that my answer to the question about my professional stress management skills confused my interviewers. I don’t manage stress at work, I‘d, say because I don’t have any. And even as my last almost 24/7 job has brought into my life shades of pressure unknown before, I experienced no stress at work.

I was intrigued by the confused reactions of my interviewers. Not only did I analyse my experiences, but many of my colleagues, team members and friends. I tried to formulate what is called stress and how people deal with it.

You are stressed at work when you lack the tools and knowledge to deal with the tasks on hand. The feelings of uncertainty and insecurity drive the emotional reactions that make us feel scared, uncomfortable, anxious and, ultimately, attacked.

Exposed to these emotions, we lose control and feel stressed. Being stuck in fight or flight mode, we don‘t have the tools for fighting and cannot escape risking our income. We become stressed because we cannot deal with what is expected. We might even lose the capacity to deal with what we‘ve been doing already because we are stressed. And it leads to even more stress in turn.

Or so they say. I‘ve seen this happening many times to my colleagues and teammates. I‘ve heard enough references to being stressed to be inclined to believe the scenario. I have, however, failed to experience it.

In her course “Decision-making in the high-stress situations”, Becky Salzman shares that stress comes from an internal reaction. It might feel like an immediate response is needed, whereas it is not. She differentiates between stress and pressure and explains pressure as an applied external force that feels like one must take immediate action.

I am convinced that the best stress management tool (both at work and in life) is a conscious choice. Choosing to understand the nature of stress and pressure. To respond instead of reacting. Choosing to manage pressure by prioritising and delegating. In essence – choosing to actively be in charge of life instead of letting life happen. I agree with Becky that we are better off separating stress from the pressure. It helps us gain more space, peace and, ultimately, agency.

Stay tuned as I‘ll share further tips and tricks on organisation, planning, time management and self-development throughout the year! You can look into the Knowledge Box for some tips and tricks already now 🙂

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