How to deal with deadline stress?
I absolutely thrive under deadline pressure. I use deadlines to force myself to do the work, let alone finish it, because I know the old adage “work expands to fill the available time” is true. I’m notorious for trying to cram in “just one more thing” before even getting started on the task at hand. This is how to deal with deadline stress come into play.
When a deadline approached in the past, I would have grabbed a snack, removed my contacts and put on my glasses, gotten my third Americano of the day, and settled in for the marathon session.
“OK, you can do this,” I’d tell myself. We’re just going to keep going until it’s finished.”
But that didn’t work for me for long.
My body eventually became incapable of sustaining those marathon working sessions, so I needed to find another way.
We’re Not Built For This
Long periods of stress are toxic to the body. Stressors used to come in short bursts in our cave days, like a saber-tooth tiger who thinks we’d make a good lunch. It’s where our fight, flight, or freeze reflexes come from, because stress was all about dealing with immediate danger back then.
But stress does not work like that in modern Western society. Instead, modern stressors, such as a looming deliverable, tend to last much longer. However, our bodies continue to react as if the saber-tooth tiger is present, causing our hearts to race, our senses to be heightened, and blood flow to the muscles to increase. It also reduces blood flow to the brain, disrupts digestion, and impairs our ability to burn fat (among other things).
And blood flow to the brain is important when you’re trying to get things done.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news.
Five Ways to Deal with Deadline Stress
Here are five simple brain science tricks to help you complete that deliverable in record time while also controlling your stress response.
1. Go for a Walk
Movement, a natural stress reliever, is one of THE BEST things we can do to both reduce stress and make us smarter – talk about a win-win situation. You can help your body release some of that fight/flight/freeze response by getting up and going for a 10-minute walk. This will begin to signal to the body that the stressor has passed, allowing it to “stand down.”
Walking not only calms the fight/flight/freeze response, but it also stimulates memory-related parts of the brain and prepares us to learn new things. So you’ll return to your desk energized, with more information stored away, ready to shower the world with your brilliance.
If you’ve always suspected that you’re one of those people who gets their best ideas away from their desk, this could be one of the reasons!
Take a Power Nap
I know what you’re thinking: “How can you possibly make any progress while sleeping?” Mom was correct when she advised sleeping on a major decision. We’re simply speeding up the process!
Sleep is required for memory formation. While we sleep, multiple parts of our brain work together to store new information, while another part works hard to synthesize the information in the context of everything else we already know. So, what about all of our new good ideas? They occur because the brain has the opportunity to work on them while we sleep!
To take advantage of this phenomenon, start with whatever you’re working on so it’s fresh in your mind, and then go take a quick 20-minute power nap when you’re ready. You will have new insights into your problem when you wake up. No, you cannot cheat the process by simply “resting your eyes” – science proves that this does not work. You must sleep in order for the REM cycles (and other sleep magic) to take effect.
3. Change Your Working Environment
Tired of sitting in your squeaky office chair under fluorescent lights? Your brain is most likely as well.
Finding a new place to work temporarily is an excellent way to stimulate your creative juices. It is possible to use a coffee shop, an empty conference room, or even an unused desk in another part of the building. Alternatively, instead of sitting, try standing. Seating, lighting, colors, sights, sounds, temperature, and smells will all stimulate your brain in different ways, resulting in new and different ideas.
Pro Tip: Sit in a low-traffic area to avoid shiny-object syndrome. We want something new and different, not something that distracts us.
Short, rapid, shallow breaths are a classic indication of someone who is stressed. It’s another relic from our cave days that is no longer useful in the twenty-first century.
When you adopt stressed-out breathing patterns, your body goes through physiologic changes that cause symptoms such as anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, frequent sighing and yawning, blurry vision, and poor memory and concentration. Not what you need when you’re on a tight deadline!
So come to a halt and take a few deep breaths.
Close your eyes, sit up straight, place one hand on your belly, and take some long, slow breaths, focusing on moving the hand on your belly while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Just ten deep breaths will help you relax and focus.
5. Give it a good shake
You’re on the verge of a brilliant idea, but you can’t quite articulate it. It’s exactly right. There.
Going for a walk seems too time-consuming, but staring at the screen isn’t going to help. Instead, stand up and bounce on your toes at your desk. Thirty seconds of bouncing, with your eyes open or closed, will shake the tension out of your muscles, wake up your nerve endings, and inject much-needed energy into your entire body.
You can think of it as “light walking.” It provides the relaxation benefits of walking but not the same brain-boosting power. It’s a great technique to use when you’re feeling sluggish and need a quick pick-me-up.
Whether you use one or all of these brain-based tricks, you’ll be getting more done in less time before you know it. You’ll quickly figure out which ones your body requires when you start incorporating them into your schedule.
Give these stress relievers a shot and let me know how they go in the comments section about how to deal with deadline stress in your version.