How do you keep your calm when everyone around you is manic?
July 7, 2014 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I work in an office that is highly vulnerable to stress and panic. At the same time, I do my best work when I can focus, exclude distractions and prioritize. How can I keep the tendency to join the panic wagon at bay?

I find that I'm often caught up in whatever the latest mania is, and it cause me to produce errors, which makes it worse. Most days, I'm simultaneously responding to vague and stress-inducing Lync messages/requests from my boss, while on the phone with a client, while trying to review statistics and spreadsheets that really should have my full attention. And the errors, of course, make it worse because those add to the stress. I try as much as possible to keep organized and parcel out my work, but I'm still often switching constantly from one thing to another and not able to devote my full attention to any one thing.

A lot of the work environment is political (in a capital P sense) and beyond my control. Even my boss, when given the time to stop and reflect and when not caught up in conflicting demands (her day is as I describe mine above but worse) admits that we really don't need to freak out. But I think she 'catches' it from others, and I, in turn, 'catch' it from her and other people. I want to find ways to inoculate myself from the panic of the environment around me.
posted by Kurichina to Work & Money (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For me, recognizing when I'm starting to feel panicky and literally slowing down -- deeper, longer breaths; slower more complete thoughts; slower more deliberate movements -- is mainly what helps. When it's really bad, taking 30 seconds to visualize myself in a bubble that deflects other people's anxiety can help, or imagining that with each exhale I'm getting rid of any absorbed stress.

The more you can realize (as you seem to) that the panic is not necessary (or even helpful) for getting the work done, the easier it can be to dissociate yourself from it, even if you're having to switch back and forth between tasks.
posted by jaguar at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you work from home?

Create blocks of time when you are unreachable. Put Lync to "do not disturb." If you're in the office, get away from your desk and use an empty conference room. If you really can't do this, set a timer and take a walk every half hour. Unless you are a brain surgeon or work in a nuclear reactor, everything will be fine. People may freak out a little at first but then they will relax - right now you have trained them that you will jump whenever they tell you to.
posted by desjardins at 11:03 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Prepare as much as possible in advance. Have Q&A, documents, etc. ready to go. At the very least, have some scripts to handle urgent, unpredictable matters.
posted by michaelh at 11:20 AM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have to be logged in to Lync as a work requirement? I find, it is best to make people write me emails if they have questions or concerns - as opposed to a bombardment of messages through IM. E-mails are easier to prioritize and assess, and don't demand the same "real time" responses that IMs do and allows me to come to a natural breaking point in what i am doing before switching tasks.

It's not that you're unreachable, but that you are prioritizing your communication styles (if anyone gets ruffled feathers).
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2014

Set Lync as "Do Not Disturb" when you *really* need to concentrate on something?
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:35 PM on July 7, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far.

I think I'm already doing all I can to communicate preferences to others and to manage workload: I prepare in advance as much as possible, but as we're understaffed and we're not supposed to rack up overtime, there's only so much one can do. So we're often prioritizing on time-based deadlines, which means we're really putting out fires all the time because there just isn't enough resources allocated to do everything we're mandated to do. If I set my Lync to do not disturb, these messages would still pop up on my screen, or people just come over and interrupt. I accept that this is the case. I'm not trying not to be a firefighter; I guess you could say I'm looking for strategies to develop better a emotional heat proof suit for myself when I'm fighting fires.

So I guess to clarify, I'm more asking about how to keep the emotional aspect from getting to me or to keep the panicky nature of the office from infecting my mood; I'm not generally asking about time management or organization.
posted by Kurichina at 1:49 PM on July 7, 2014

I assume that no one will actually die in these circumstances? If so, constantly remind yourself its only a job and give yourself active permission to be human.
posted by Middlemarch at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2014

Best answer: This may sound silly, but when I was in this situation at an old job, I used visualization techniques. I didn't really think of them by that name, but later realized that's what I was doing.

Whenever my SUPER STRESSED ALL THE TIME boss would come talk/freakout at me about something, I would listen to what he was saying and devote the rest of my mental energy to imagining a literal wall between the two of us. So, I could take in what I needed to do my job, but all the stress and panic feelings he was sending were being deflected. This was basically to just distract the part of my brain that started getting panicky and to remind myself that those feelings were his problem, not mine. It didn't work 100%, but it helped. It also worked much better on the days when I dragged my ass out of bed before dawn and started the day with yoga, running or meditation.

After a while, he wore me down and I left the company, but hopefully something like that is helpful!
posted by ohisee at 2:17 PM on July 7, 2014

Best answer: I work in a similarly high-stress, multi-task demanding job (bodily injury insurance claims) and while there isn't so much a political force driving the mania, you could say the stress of the workload and our customers drives it instead. I know what you're feeling.

That being said, if the conversation that people are having is non-work related, or not pertaining to a project you are currently working on, the best excuse to get out of that conversation is to turn back around to your computer and work on it.

The next tip is to practice tuning out undesirable sound. This may be difficult at first, but it can be achieved with practice and focus (I recommend at home meditation, both for the focusing benefits and the stress-relief benefits post-work). Half the time my coworkers are engaged in a squabble or high volume bitching fest, I tune it out until it just becomes a dull roar.

It's human and normal/healthy to engage in some daily work squabble with coworkers, but you can limit it to what you feel is best for you by 1) determining what mania actually pertains to you 2) if it doesn't pertain to you, use a work-related task ("I have to make this phone call no later than [insert what time it is]") to get out of the conversation, or even excuse yourself to the bathroom.

It it does pertain to you, is the topic currently beating a dead horse? If not, you'll probably want to engage it to make sure you're on top of the latest news, but if it's complaints and yakking over what's already been tread, I'd just say, "Hmm, I'll get on resolving that/completing that right now or at x time today" and just turn back to work.

Again, this works for me, but your mileage may vary.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2014

So this was me. I eventually had to quit, but after work every day I would sit down in my closet, close the door and meditate for 15-60 minutes. That kept me going for many months. Also, I kept a cryptic note prominently on my desk, taking up a lot of desk space, that was a private reminder to me to relax, don't take X personally, etc., etc., etc. During phone conversations I would have similar reminders to myself out in front of me, alongside the work stuff. And therapy every week.
posted by zeek321 at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're prepared in advance and still can't do anything about all the unpredictability and interrupting, I'd suggest to get a lot of sleep, if possible by going to bed early, and eating very well. Exercise is a must and if you can get it in the middle of the day, that might really help you. You'll want to, if you haven't, develop a best friend at work that you can both rely on professionally and rely on personally as someone with which you're sharing this ordeal.
posted by michaelh at 8:36 PM on July 7, 2014

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