How to Handle Stress When Coming Up On a Deadline

Deadlines are a key component of project management. One might argue that deadlines are the reason that project management exists as a career. The ability to manage deadlines is a crucial project management skill, but unfortunately even in those that are fantastic at deadline management, coming upon a due date can be a time of immense stress and anxiety.

That’s because all deadlines are naturally stressful, and in some cases this stress can cause severe anxiety if it continues too often. Project managers experience something very similar to lawyers (a group notorious for intense anxiety and depression) – their ability to handle a project is too black and white. Either you meet the deadline or you don’t. Either you succeed or you fail. As a result, even the best project managers tend to experience this degree of intense anxiety when coming upon a due date.

Getting over that deadline

Tips for Controlling That Stress

Due dates are ongoing, and there are usually many of them. That’s too much stress for one person to handle. So to combat that stress, consider the following tips:

  • Create Sub Goals and Sub Deadlines Well in Advance

You already likely do this in some form, and it may seem unlikely that more deadlines helps with anxiety, but so much of the stress and anxiety that comes from coming upon a deadline is the result of not knowing what’s done and waiting on things that need to be completed, etc. If everything for the project has a short deadline, and every little bit is mapped out, you’ll have a better idea of what you need at every given moment. Essentially there will be no deadlines, because every day you know what’s getting done.

  • Start By Exercising On the Day of the Deadline

There is a tendency to want to get started at work right away, but the best thing you can do is immediately tire out your muscles and fight some of your anxiety symptoms. One of the best ways to do this is with exercise. Exercise releases calming neurotransmitters and tires muscles so your physical symptoms will be less severe throughout the day. Anxiety builds upon itself, so if you’re more physically relaxed with fewer symptoms, the day will not get to you as much.

  • Time Yourself With Breaks

You also need to take breaks. It’s not always something that comes easily, but if you spend time only focusing on the deadline, you’re going to suffer. One dual method that appears to be effective is giving yourself short timely deadlines throughout the day. Set an alarm for 1 hour, for example, and work as hard as you can for that hour. Once that hour is over, force yourself to take a 15 minute break. Do something fun, call someone on the phone – take your mind off what’s going on. Then set the alarm again and doing it again.

  • Don’t Clock Watch

Watching the clock has never helped anyone when coming across a deadline. You’re not going to work faster just because it’s 3:01 instead of 3:00, and time spent checking the clock is time wasted. Find any way you can to turn the clock off, unless a specific time is necessary for your work.

Planning, Living, and Being Happy

It’s not the way you do your job that needs to change when you have stress leading up to a deadline. Chances are you’re great at your job, and the stress still gets to you. What matters is how you spend all of the other time. If you can manage how you handle the issues that cause you stress and reduce the likelihood of experiencing anxiety, you’ll find a greater chance of relief from your anxiety symptoms.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera suffered from intense anxiety and panic attack symptoms at his work. He writes about overcoming anxiety at

One thought on “How to Handle Stress When Coming Up On a Deadline”

  1. Some great suggestions in the above – I especially like the start the day be exercising – I know it helps, but I still find it hard to make sure I do so..

    One that I’d add, at the risk of sounding liking a pedant with the choice of words…

    Don’t try and manage the deadline – it is what it is, it won’t change (or at least not at your behest) and it will happen. What one manages is how we react to that deadline;
    – know what you need to do to meet the deadline – not what you want to do, but what is essential and achieve that first, then add extras, finesse and more vale
    – understand the consequence if failure, so the level of stress is real and appropriate, i.e. don’t get stressed over an artificial deadline.
    – share the stress; delegate, sub-contract or brainstorm options but get other people involved.

    basically give yourself the best chance to succeed and reduce the stress, a little will give you focus, a lot distracts

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