How to Manage Stress for Peak Performance

Stress is part of life, but stress management is a skill everyone can learn. Leadership coach Susanne Madsen demonstrates how. 

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!

how to manage your project stress

In Review – How to Manage Stress:

Susanne began with the counter-intuitive statement that you need stress to perform at your best. Too much pressure, she noted, will lead to burn out. But not enough results in what she calls “rust out.” Therefore, it’s paramount for everyone to find their zone of peak performance.

But how do you do that? First, you have to learn how to manage your stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is a natural condition of the body, a reaction producing endorphins and hormones in response to a difficult situation. But when we live in a perpetual state of being stressed out, this can have an adverse affect on our bodies, mind and health. Since we spend anywhere from 8-10 hours a day most weeks at work, it’s important for managers and employees to take stress seriously, know how to manage their own stress, and find ways to reduce stressful situations and environments.

Tips for Reducing Stress at Work

Work is often seen as the place of stress. But it doesn’t have to be. Be sure you set up your personal workspace so that you have the tools and the space you need to be productive with the least stress possible. And if you’re managing a team, be mindful of how to create as stress-free an environment as you can. Here are some easy ways you can help to reduce stress every day:

  • Keep your desk clean and tidy. Having a clear and open space to work on your desk can help with feeling more relaxed.
  • Get a plant. A little greenery can go a long way towards clearing the air in your cubicle and offering the calm, presence of nature, too.
  • Take walks. Just a brisk, 5-minute walk (at the top of an hour) can help clear your head, bring oxygen to your body and help center you for the next hour. It’s also well documented that sitting too long is bad for our bodies. So whether it’s a lap in the hallway, a trip up the stairs, or a walk around your building, take time to take five. (Walking not your thing? Check out these 5 ways to sneak in more exercise at work.)
  • Set office hours. Don’t succumb to an endless stream of people who feel free to poke their head in on you and ask you about this and that. This distracts you from your focused work and can add up to a lot of stress. Even if you don’t have an office, let people know when you’re working, and when you’re free for pop-ins.
  • Prioritize the big things. Perception is important to help you manage your stress. You can define, at the start of each week, which tasks require your focus and which are just nice-to-haves. When you prioritize your tasks, you can manage your own expectations around that work, and reduce unnecessary stress on less important things.
  • Support your coworkers or team. Make sure you aren’t the cause of stress. Of course, you can’t control how others react, but you can do your best to not produce unnecessary stress by being supportive, encouraging and in control of your own stress levels.
  • Get tools to help you manage your work. Sticky notes are great, but not when they represent all the work you haven’t yet done (and add to the clutter on your desk.) An online task management tool can help remind you (and your team) of work that needs to be done, so you can focus on the actual work.

Stress Management Techniques

Susanne recommends the following techniques for reducing stress and better stress management. There are 4 things to remember:

1. You can control your reaction to stress.

How we interpret events plays a role in our own stress levels. So you can adjust your attitude and responses to potentially stressful events, as well as how you plan to perceive those same events. This takes work, but it can be done. 

2. Your emotional brain is also under your control.

You have an instinct (we all do) to fight or flee when stressful or chaotic events are happening all around you. Those instincts are vital for survival. But most of us, in our daily working lives, aren’t confronted with true life or death consequences, so we really need to tell our emotional selves that it’s okay to respond in a calmer fashion. 

3. When you’re beginning to feel stressed out, take a pause.

Like when you were a child and had a time-out, it’s okay and even healthy to take a time out when you notice yourself beginning to feel nervous or agitated. Signs are an elevated heart rate, or pacing, or you’re talking about the same situation to everyone you meet. Try to catch yourself before you get too worked up, and take a deep breath to add oxygen to your brain and body.  and remind yourself that whatever is causing this stress, isn’t worth impacting your health. 

4. Look at the situation from various perspectives.

Be open to feedback. Ask others what they think, and really ponder all the various scenarios and perspectives to this stress-inducing event. The goal is not to validate your stress, but find ways for you to manage and lessen your stress. 

Susanne also suggested keeping an eye on your team’s stress levels, which impact your stress, of course, but also the success of your project.

Take it further: Another way to reduce project stress is to have fun. It’s not all work, you know. There are times, say when you’ve reached a milestone, in which you can reward the team and take time to recharge.

Thanks for watching!


Hi, I’m Susanne Madsen. Welcome to this whiteboard session on balancing your stress levels.

Stress is interesting because you actually do need some stress or pressure in order to perform at your best. I’ve drawn up the stress curve here behind me. On the horizontal axis, we’ve got your job pressure and on the vertical axis, job performance. And what we see is that on the left-hand side, there is very little job pressure and your performance is also quite low.

This means that there is very little demand for your skills and for your services. That’s quite demotivating if you’re there for a long time and we call that fall “rust out.”

As job pressure or stress rises, so will your performance. There is a demand for you and you might feel a bit of a stretch, which can be very, very motivating. But then there is a point at which there is too much pressure or too much stress and your performance will begin to decline because there is too much demand for what you can give. If you operate there for too long, we call that fall “burnout.” Well, you might hit burnout and that’s a bad point because you will be physically depleted and it can take a long time to bounce back from that point. You need to operate within your zone of peak performance and avoid these two extremes. Let’s look at how you can begin to do that.

Well, first of all, you need to recognize that you can actually control your stress levels. Sometimes we think that it’s the external events that stress us, but if you find your boss stressful, the interesting thing is that your coworker might not find him or her stressful. So it’s not really what happens. It is how we interpret what happens. If that’s true, it means that you can begin to work with your attitudes and your perceptions in order to manage your stress levels. You also need to be aware of controlling your emotional brain. Sometimes when we feel stressed, we have a tendency to go into a fight, flight or freeze mode. That’s in the emotional brain, but when you’re in your emotional brain, it also means you’re not accessing your frontal lobe and that’s where logic resides.

So you really need to be aware of calming down and the best way to do that is to pause. When you feel stressed, ground yourself, pause and take a deep breath. Oxygenate your brain, oxygenate your muscles. Because then you’re much better able to see the situation from different angles. How else might I interpret this event? The situation that you find stressful, what else could it mean? That’s really a way that you begin to work with your perceptions and see the stressful event differently. But to be honest, this is not just about you and your stress levels. You’re a project manager and a leader and it’s your responsibility to also monitor your team’s stress levels and to make sure that no one goes to either of these extremes. Thank you for watching. Please visit us again at

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