Reacting to stress – do you project or introspect?

Reacting to stress – do you project or introspect?

Are you caving in to stress? Are you building up resentment against a colleague whose communication style differs from yours? Have you exploded recently or said unpleasant things you regret? Did you project your stress onto someone else?

Maybe it was cathartic, maybe it helped and things settled down with apologies on both sides, but has the air cleared? Has anyone fully realised and taken responsibility for their own contribution to the issues?

Most of us react to stress one way or another – we either “introspect” and bottle up tension, or release it like a champagne cork with someone copping it in the eye.

With so much in our environment causing stress, let alone our own behaviours, is there a better way to react?


What are you really trying to achieve?


Most of us are juggling multiple objectives and too many demands at work and in our private lives. Some prefer to focus on one at a time, while others do a little of each, and keep on that path until everything is done. 

There isn’t really a “best” way to achieve objectives and get through tasks, save that some of us work faster than others. (A word of caution to the “hares” reading this – sometimes you can overlook important details as you sprint to the finish line.) Have a list of priorities and work through them as methodically as possible.

Above all focus on completion – and feel good about each thing you complete and can cross off your list!


Be sensitive to others who may work differently to you


Just because you are angry, don’t let the office tension spiral out of control. Contain the problem, and if someone is having an issue, work around them as best you can. Offer them whatever they need to finish the task. It might be a quiet room, no interruptions, even a friendly coffee and a smile. You may believe they are slow or even “selfish”, but a “projector” splashes their emotions everywhere and everybody pays the price. No one’s a winner in these situations.

Even if you’re fuming over an apparent spanner in the works, try to channel that superfluous energy into other tasks. Don’t forget, a human “roadblock” is likely to be inwardly suffering as much as you are. They too are experiencing doubts, indigestion, perhaps snapping at their loved ones. If need be, pair that colleague with another whose approach complements theirs in completing tasks.  


Manage your feelings: Project positively not negatively


If you’re a “projector”, why not choose to project something more positive? A little empathy for the “stress bottler” goes a long way. Colleagues sense your fidgety explosive feelings beneath your office manner, and it’s making things worse. Having an argument can occasionally release necessary tensions and truths, but taking an emotional step away from matters is probably going to be more productive in the short term. Especially if you focus on what you could do better, how you can improve the situation rather than adding more fuel to the embers.


Find a productive outlet for your stress


Focus on your work. What can YOU control and complete? Instead of going over and over the negatives, busy yourself with what needs doing, or get away from the office for a while. Hit the treadmill or practise a martial art. Everyone should know what activity helps to calm themselves – whether it be:

  • an artistic pursuit
  • a walk in solitude
  • exercise
  • meditation
  • fun with a friend.

Can you right now say the top three things that calm you down? TRY!

When a crisis has passed, choose a relaxed time to workshop what happened, allowing for all parties to speak, vent and be heard. The aim of the exercise is not to blame, but to recognise which end of the stress-coping spectrum people occupy: projecting or introspection. Then discuss and agree to helpful ways to manage these approaches while accomplishing group goals.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. 


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