What keeps you awake at night?

Did you know that this is the most depressing time of the year? It's been proven with equations (for all you mathematicians out there). Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Monday_(date)

I can feel it at work. Everyone is halfway between stressed and insane. Stress management is a necessary skill for everyone nowadays. And although there are self-help books about it, I've found you just have to experiment to see what works for you. I believe stress can be all in your head and if you can change the way you think or react to things, you can manage your stress.


I remember a day a few years ago while working in the Digital Media Division at Microsoft when I came to work with 5 critical projects all happening at the same time. My drive to work that morning was spent thinking about how I was going to manage making it through the day. My stress level was definitely increasing. When I left at the end of the day, not much progress was made on those projects and I now had 9 critical projects on my plate. I had just experienced one of the most stressful days ever. And I was under so much pressure, I couldn’t think straight. That was when I realized that I had to control my stress. I knew if I was going to be successful as a manager in this fast-paced industry, I needed to keep my stress level down.


There are a few things I do to survive stress especially during the most depressing time of the year. They won't work for everyone, but I figured I would share and maybe it will trigger some insight for how you can also manage stress.

  1. I take it out on my treadmill. Go be physical. During stressful times when I come home and feel like a need to punch something, I beat up my treadmill. And it takes it really well. J It's amazing how physical activity can eliminate stress. And it's also amazing how well you can exercise when you are frustrated or stressed.
  2. Remember, it's only work. Ok, that statement only applies to those of us not dealing with life or death situations. Luckily I'm not a doctor or a police officer. Looking at the big picture, it's not the end of the world if my automation didn't pass correctly or my devs didn't fix as many bugs as they should have. Sure these things need fixed, but can't it wait until tomorrow? Which leads me to my next item….
  3. All those problems will be waiting for me the next day. So I can go home to forget about them for awhile and I don't worry. Worrying is just a bad habit to get into because it doesn't fix the problem and only makes you feel worse about it. I once had a boss ask me what keeps me awake at night. Nothing. Ok, maybe a thunderstorm outside or a scary movie I just watched. But work definitely doesn't keep me awake. Why would I let it? Then I would come in to work the next day being dead tired and not able to solve those critical problems that people are counting on me to solve. Nope, I don't let it get the best of me. I actually like sleeping. I don't want to miss out on that to think about things I can't do anything about while lying in bed in the middle of the night.
  4. Don't internalize work. Both good and bad things happen at work. And sometimes bad things happen to good people at work. All the lay-offs due to the recession come to mind. We all feel bad about events like that, but if you let all the bad things from work get to you, you end up carrying around a ton of baggage that brings you down day after day. And that becomes excessively hard to deal with. What I do to get through bad times is I think about all the good things. When we laid off people on my team, I was very thankful for all the team members we didn't lay off. I even found out that getting laid off worked well for one person because he could spend time at home as his baby was being born and then found a better paying job! Feeling bad for others and having too much empathy for them can really affect you especially if you are a manager where you are exposed to this a lot more. That can lead to bad personal habits like alcoholism, drugs, and even suicide. Don't be a hazard to yourself due to work.
  5. I accept that I will never get everything done. The list of items to accomplish at work is just too large to get through fully. At the point you can accept that and let low priority items fall off the list (yes, you'll actually need to prioritize some things as low), there is a sense of relief because you will not feel as much pressure.
  6. And finally, good enough is truly good enough. I've given up my perfectionist tendencies long ago. Have you? At the point something reaches the state of "good enough", it's done. Don’t worry about it further.

I've been in the software industry almost 20 years. It takes time to manage stress. If any of these items hits close to home for you, then just keep working on them. This was a good refresh of info for me as well because I always need to work on these to keep stress at bay. But the more I do it, the easier it gets. I hope it works for you as well.