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Managing the Stress of a Career in Intelligence

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By Dr. Valerie E. Davis, Faculty Member, Intelligence Studies at American Public University

The job of an intelligence analyst is often very stressful due to the nature of the work and intense pressures to deliver information in a short amount of time. Intel analysts work in a high-pressure work environment and often manage increasing workloads, changing work shifts, and deployments.

Intel AnalystTherefore, it’s important for intel analysts to learn how to recognize and identify stress and understand effective ways to manage it. For example, focusing on time management skills, staying organized, prioritizing tasks, and learning how to focus on the task at hand without getting distracted are all important skills for analysts.

Task prioritization is crucial to managing stress. Intel analysts must learn how to work more intelligently by focusing on the most important tasks and work less on low priority tasks. In addition, successful analysts know how to separate large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. Do not permit unnecessary or minuscule tasks to be distractions from completing important tasks. When a problem arises, expeditiously assess it, plan a course of action, and implement it.

Knowing the job requirements and how to fulfill them is also important to minimizing job stress. Analysts expect to work a demanding schedule, but often are surprised by the minimal guidance they receive about what and how they should do their job. Asking managers about the criteria for success can help allow an analyst to focus on specific tasks.

How to Manage Stress
During times of stress, it’s also important for analysts to take short breaks to relax. Analysts should stay physically fit and also be sure to stretch and move their bodies throughout the work day, particularly when spending a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. To stay sharp, analysts should eat healthy foods and regular meals and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.

[Related Article: Physical Health for Strong Critical Thinking Skills]

In order to cope with stress, analysts should have a strong social support system. Friends and family can help provide a social life away from work. Family members can create a nurturing and supportive network to minimize job-related stress. Family vacations and time away from a stressful environment will help reduce stress.

The key to limiting stress is to learn how to manage it effectively. Identify situations, tasks, or stressors that contribute to your stress and then develop an action plan for changing them. While stress affects everyone in different ways, analysts must identify specific sources of stress that interfere with their productivity and affect their physical and emotional health.

Analysts cannot avoid or ignore stress because it is an expected aspect of the career. But analysts can learn how to identify stress and manage stress so it does not negatively affect their work and success.

Valerie Davis_capgown2_croppedAbout the Author: Dr. Valerie E. Davis is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Public University. She served as senior intelligence professional and educator in the U.S. Air Force for over 23 years until her retirement. Her assignments in the intelligence community encompassed a variety of disciplines, including theater, major commands, wing and national levels.

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