Fast Company – How To Keep Working Productively When You’re Under Extreme Stress

Extreme stress is one of the most challenging experiences many of us face in life. It isn’t easy to keep going, much less be productive, when life throws you a serious curveball. Dealing with extreme stress requires doubling down on coping skills at a time when you may feel overwhelmed.

I was asked by Fast Company for some key ways to keep working productively when you’re under extreme stress, and I was very pleased to help with this terrific piece by Gwen Moran.

“A curveball like that requires sharpening your coping skills and expanding them so that you can deal with what’s being demanded of you,” says clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. And there is a strategic approach you can take to help you cope and perform better, even when you’re operating under extreme stress.



We all have tasks that need to get done to fulfill our responsibilities. However, high-performing individuals often go beyond the basics and take on other to-dos—that’s often what makes them high performers, Clark says. Now is the time to scale back to the most necessary and immediate task. Ask yourself these key questions:

Where can I cut back?

Where can I save time?

What can I put off without much consequence?

For example, do you need to take that trip to China now? Or can you cut back to visiting two states instead of three on your next trip? Can support staff handle some of the legwork on that upcoming report? Once you have a sense of where your time needs to be spent, you can create a list of priorities to ensure you’re getting the essentials done. Then you can decide whether you have time or energy to take on more.



This is also a good time to let go of perfectionism and accept “good enough,” Clark says. When you’re good at and take pride in what you do, it can be tough to do the minimum acceptable job. Sometimes, that’s what’s necessary to free up time and energy you need for other things to prevent burnout, she says.



Clark adds that it’s important to practice good self-care, including getting enough sleep, exercising, and trying to manage your stress. Chances are that you’re going to have to juggle a personal emergency with your work at some point. Understanding how to keep your work life intact while managing extreme stress requires a combination of cutting back, being mindful, and taking care of your own needs, so you can address both work and personal demands.


Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


  1. Ann Montes on November 8, 2016 at 1:37 am

    Thank you for sharing this amazing post.