The Managing Stress Triangle

“I’m stressed out. I’m so overwhelmed.”

The job of a manager/leader is very demanding and stressful. Managers need a clear understanding of what creates stress and how to deal with it effectively.

The three parts of the managing stress triangle are:

  • Demands
  • Coping skills
  • Reactions


“My job is very demanding. I get 200 e-mails a day.” Managers and leaders face a variety of demands from work, family, and self-imposed standards.

Work demands include:

  • Heavy workload – “Since Sue was laid off you have to pick up half of her projects.”
  • Tight deadlines – “You need to have this report redone by 3:00 p.m.”
  • Difficult bosses – “I want it done my way. If you don’t like it, there is the door!”
  • Travel – “You need to fly to New York on Wednesday and to London next week.”
  • Demanding customers – “If you can’t deliver in two days, I’m finding a new supplier.”
  • Upset employees – “It’s not fair. Why do I get all the problem accounts?”
  • Personality conflicts – “Warren is so abrasive and aggressive. I hate dealing with him.”

Gloria Dunn, President of Wiser Ways to Work, states, “The workplace holds a plethora of anxiety producers. Many are from unpredictable sources such as job losses, relocations, losing co-workers to downsizing, or having multiple bosses in quick succession.”

Family demands include:

  • Holidays and special events – “Over the holiday we’re having 28 people for dinner.”
  • Family conflicts – “I don’t get along with my sister. We haven’t talked in nine months.”
  • Elder care – “My father is in a nursing home. I try to visit him twice per week.”
  • Spending time with spouse or significant other – “Let’s go away for the weekend.”
  • Spending time with the kids – “Let’s see, I’m going to Kate’s soccer game at 10 a.m., Andy’s
  • basketball game at noon, and I need to get Tim to his piano lesson at 4 o’clock.”
  • Bills – “I just paid this bill.” “How can the credit card bill be so much?”
  • Chores – “How am I supposed to get to the bank, post office, grocery store, and car wash and cut the grass by noon?”

Self imposed standards:

  • Perfection – “I must be totally prepared for every meeting.” “I must be the perfect parent.”
  • Must dos – “I have to run three miles everyday no matter what the weather conditions are.”

The number of demands and their importance produces an overall cumulative effect. Leadership Consultant John Nicoletta states, “It’s important to have balance. Sigmund Freud believed people need a good blend of work, play, and love in their lives. I have a friend who works 80 hours a week and travels constantly. He has no time for play or a social life.”

Coping Skills

“Coping skills” refers to the skills and techniques people use to deal with life’s demands. They include management/interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and relaxation techniques.

Management/Interpersonal skills:

Goal setting – ability to set specific and measurable goals;
Prioritizing – ability to identify and focus on the most important items;
Time management – ability to plan and keep to a schedule;
Organizing – ability to arrange work and work area in a way that optimizes productivity and efficiency;
Conflict management – ability to influence and negotiate “win-win” solutions;
Problem solving – ability to identify root cause problems, develop options, and select the best alternative;
Taking action – ability to implement plans and decisions;
Delegating – ability to assign tasks to others;
Saying “no” – ability to avoid taking on tasks that distract from priorities.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence involves feelings and awareness. Emotionally intelligent people are aware of and in touch with their feelings. What makes you angry? At what point do you become aware that your blood pressure is rising? Emotionally intelligent people are adept at reading their bodily signals early and often. Dealing with stress as it happens is an effective coping skill.

Gain perspective. Some “stressed out” people view every demand as life or death. Emotionally intelligent people can put their feelings in a larger context. “On a scale of one to ten where does this issue fall?” Often times it’s our own attitude towards the demand that makes it become a bigger stressor.

Relaxation Techniques

A person’s physical condition and ability to relax influence his or her ability to handle stress. Most stress management experts recommend a regular exercise program and the use of relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. Professor Bernadette Della Bitta of Springfield Technical Community College states, “Schedule breaks of five minutes throughout the day to stretch, take a walk, or simply to be quiet. Never work during lunch. Take a break away from your desk, phone, and others.” The American Institute of Stress recommends inhaling slowly. It’s one of the quickest ways to trigger the body’s relaxation response. Fun activities are also important. “Playing pick-up basketball at the gym completely takes my mind off my work and family demands.”


The number and severity of the demands managers face and the level of their coping skills combine to produce a wide range of reactions. For example, a person with excellent coping skills facing moderate demands will get the job done with little to no stress. On the other hand, a person with average coping skills facing difficult demands will experience a great amount of stress.

Stress may manifest itself in many different ways. Common physical reactions to stress include headaches, ulcers, stomach distress, muscle tension, problems with sexual performance, and sleep disturbances. Common emotional and psychological reactions include anxiety, anger, mood swings, and difficulty concentrating.

What to do?

There are several things you can do:

  1. Find ways to reduce the number of demands you face.
  2. Improve your coping skills.
  3. Use some combination of number 1 and 2.

Make a list of all of your demands. Can any be eliminated or offloaded to others? Prioritize those that are most important at the beginning of each day. Evaluate your coping skills. What areas need improvement? What can you learn from the ways others cope with stress? Start an exercise program. Meditate. Find balance in your life.


The best managers know how to handle more demands while maintaining low stress levels. Developing effective coping skills is critical. Recognize the onset of stress and deal with it effectively – take a deep breath and take a moment to clear your mind before your stress levels heighten. And finally, counteract the stress – leave the office, jump on the treadmill, sign up for a yoga class, meditate – do whatever is necessary to regain balance.

Applying the Concept

Gary Lockwood, Founder,, dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and enhancing the lives of CEOs, business owners and professionals.

I try to reduce demands and fully utilize my coping skills. I frequently review my demands to see which ones I can “let go” of. Letting go means I say “no,” delegate, or outsource. This is the time I need to be brutally honest and decide what requires my attention. I can’t do everything, so I choose those demands that have the biggest impact on my business or have the strongest influence on my happiness and well being.

As for coping skills, exercise is the fastest way for me to dissipate stress. Taking a long walk with my wife will drop my stress immediately as we talk about the future, our grandchildren, upcoming vacations, and so on. My second coping action is to schedule days off, relaxation time, every 4-6 weeks. These mini-vacations help me recuperate both physically and emotionally.

Susan L. Gilbert, Author of The Land of I Can, Business Mentor, and Speaker. Book and newsletter are available at

Stuff happens. It’s part of our wonderful world called life. How I deal with life’s obstacles, distractions, and annoyances is the difference between “going with the flow” or feeling “overwhelmed and stressed out.”

I start by believing I can create the life I want. Trying to live someone else’s life is stressful. I take responsibility by focusing on what I need. Set goals and implement plans. When I practice self-care and take steps to improve the quality of my life, those things out of my control become less irritating.

Coping skills: I’ve learned to focus on the good. It’s the proverbial, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” Negative thinking produces feelings of helplessness and stress. It’s my choice how I perceive the situation. When I focus on the positive, I’m more inclined to see new opportunities and have a “can do” attitude. For me, positive thoughts make my life exciting and keep stress at the insignificant level.