How to Manage Stress at Work & Boost Your Career Confidence

Heidy Rehman

Posted on October 10 2017

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Getting ahead at work in most industries seems almost designed to create stress. Deadlines, targets and aggressive competitors do not make for a zen-like working experience.

Stress can sometimes be a good thing. According to research by Dienstbier it can toughen us up and make us more equipped to deal with life's more demanding challenges. As the saying goes 'whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.'

But stress also has its downsides. We're reminded often of the health risks – a weaker immune system, raised blood pressure, fatigue, depression and even heart disease.

But what we don't talk about is the impact stress can have from a career standpoint. Stress can hinder our thought processes (we can make wrong decisions or take too long to complete a task); it can raise our anxiety levels (we might not put our best foot forward) and it can make us irritable (we can lose our temper easily). None of this is likely to endear us to either colleagues, clients or managers. It may also give the impression that we can't cope, a situation that would stall any career.

But there are ways to handle stress. I gave up a long corporate career to set up my Rose & Willard, an ethical, sustainable brand with a focus on promoting empowerment and confidence. I have had the good fortune to work with a talented psychotherapist, Natasha Abbasi. She and I have worked together to create some valuable 'tricks' to make stress more manageable. Part of my new role involves mentoring young professionals. This is some of what I share with them.

Firstly, confidence is something we all have. When we feel 'unconfident' it is because we are less familiar with the confident part of ourselves. We can learn to increase our self-awareness and thus tap into our confidence. 

We can practice this in our everyday lives. Here are some examples:

How do we get back in the game when we've had a really stressful journey to work or if we are too distracted with other things? 

'Go back to the body'. Choose a part of your body, any part (an elbow, a knee, anything) and focus entirely on that to the exclusion of everything else. Close your eyes if it is makes it easier and just think about that part of the body. This forces the mind to expel other thoughts and allows it to re-focus. This process acts as a 'reboot' for the mind.

How do you deal with a boss /colleague snapping at you?

Often when this happens the problem is not with you but rather it is an extension of something in their lives. Humanise them. Try to consider what may have led to their short fuse. Did they have a bad commute? Forget their pass at home? The psychological term 'helicoptering' suggests looking from a high vantage point in order to gain a broader and more objective perspective. This helps to distance emotion and free up your rationality.

There's also the 'Parent-Adult-Child' theory. When someone rounds on another it can seem like a chastisement or admonishment ('parent') or it can take the form of a tantrum or something petulant ('child'). It is easy in a situation such as this to react in a similar way. Don't 'get in the ring' with them as the situation will only descend into a falling out or an argument. The solution here is to bring the conversation back to the 'adult'. Staying calm, try to address the issue constructively and impartially. The opposite party then has no option but to reciprocate in the same way.

What to do if you've inadvertently snapped at a colleague?

As above, this is likely to have happened because of something unrelated to that colleague. It can be easy to feel guilty or regretful but it is important not to ruminate or let the situation linger. Find the earliest opportunity to apologise. Make it short but explain what it is you're apologising for. A pre-emptive apology is almost always disarmingly effective. It also allows you to frame the context of the dispute, to end it and to move on.

How to refocus if an important meeting didn't go well and you are left feeling deflated? 

Start the day again. This can be done through something that is associated with uplifting or happy memories. It can be through the reminder of a poem or a saying, or via a keepsake or photograph. Something that prevents dwelling on the negative and can help replace it with a more positive mindset.

What should you do if you'd had a tough exchange with someone and you can't let it go?

We've all done it, replayed in our minds what we would have said and demonstrated to ourselves how we would have 'come out on top'. This is futile. It involves anticipating the chain of another person's reactions which is impossible to do. The answer is to 'never have a conversation with someone who is not in the same room'. Then we have to let it go. 


Of course, these techniques are not specific to these situations. They have multiple applications. For example, e.g. 'helicoptering' is always good to use in an appraisal.

The bottom line is that proactively managing stress has a self-perpetuating effect. We are less likely to become stressed in the first place. This will lead to a boost in our confidence, the foundation of every successful career.


Rose & Willard create ethical, eco fashion for feminists. To shop our office and workwear collections of feminine suits, desk-to-dinner dresses and smart separates click here.


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