9 Strategies to Relieve Stress in Leadership Roles
There’s an interesting saying – A Diamond is a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well!
Stress is inevitable and unavoidable in a leadership role. Well, there are people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson who are in leadership roles and can manage stress pretty well and scale to exceptional heights in their careers. Such people then become diamonds that everyone admires, they also demonstrate that it is possible to thrive in leadership roles.
Is it possible for all leaders to thrive while being in stressful situations?
Short Answer: Yes!
Indeed it is possible to learn to manage stress and come to a peaceful state within oneself as a leader. From this state, the decisions you make will be wiser, more pragmatic, and create excellent results for your organization.
Let’s look at some of the ways to cope with and manage work-related stress.
1.Identify and acknowledge Stress
If you have been in a leadership role for a while, it is likely that you don’t even realize you are stressed because stress may have become a normal state of being for you.
For starters, it is important to learn to identify and acknowledge stress so that you can begin to deal with it.
During your workday, it may be a good idea to stop whatever you are doing and tune in to your body for a moment –
Notice your breathing pattern – is it deep or shallow?
Feel your shoulders – are they tight and almost heavy with an unseen burden?
Feel your forehead – furrowed/knitted brow?
Notice the way you are sitting – relaxed or ready to jump?
How about your jaw – is it relaxed or clenched?
Compare this with when you are actually relaxed – maybe on a Sunday morning after a restful sleep – how does your body feel then? Probably deep easy breathing, relaxed shoulders, uncreased brow, feeling at ease.
TIP: Just before that dreaded board meeting when you are super stressed, mentally revisit that relaxed Sunday morning and feel the feeling of being relaxed – deep breathing, light shoulders, feeling calm – you will notice that your body actually has relaxed – now you can proceed to the Board Meeting and easily handle all that you need to.
2.Identify Stress Triggers
Each one of us has our own unique stress triggers – situations and events that disturb one may be trivial for others and vice versa. Make a list of the triggers that you respond to with stress.
Now divide that list into two parts – one where things are in your control and you can make a change, and the other where stress comes from things that not in your control.
Make it a priority to deal with the first list and change the things that are in your control. With the other list acknowledge that these things are not in your control and accept those as part of the environment that you are in.
3.Move your body
Exercise is the easiest stress reliever. It is also a great mood enhancer – physical activity stimulates your body to release happy hormones like endorphins. When you feel good in your body, your mind relaxes too. People who exercise regularly feel less stressed and more confident about dealing with any challenges that come their way.
Figure out the flavor of exercise that you personally enjoy the most. It could be walking, running, hiking, swimming, cycling, yoga, aerobics, dancing, formal exercise plans, pick one or a combination that you love doing. It’s easier to do something that you are personally drawn to even when everyone else follows the current fad.
4.Connect with others
Make it a priority to spend time with people whose company is uplifting. Acknowledge and nurture such relationships and make new ones with people who have a positive effect on you.
Make a date with an old friend with whom you can vent safely. Talk about your fears, failures, stresses, and worries – just sharing with someone who understands and supports you helps to remove some of the stress and anxiety.
5.Make time for fun and relaxation
It’s imperative to prioritize relaxation into your day – this is a necessity, not a luxury. A good stand-up comedian can help you relax like nothing else. Watch a good old comedy.
Do something that gives you joy – simple things like tinkering in the garage, reading a book, making tea just the way you like it, polishing your car, making a meal.
6.Find Work-life balance
Barbara Haddon and Professor Adnrew Hede from University of Sunshine Coast in Australia have been studying Australian lawyers to find effective work-life balance strategies. The key findings were boundary management between home and work, along with leisure activities, flexibility and having supportive environment help to create work-life balance.
This is easier said than done, but you have to begin somewhere. Be aware and have clear office hour boundaries. Encourage a culture in your organization where people are rewarded for finishing their assignments in time and not drag work into late hours.
Create possibilities where you are able to turn off your work phones after office hours.
Use your time at home to connect with family and enjoy mealtimes together and have relaxed evenings at home.
Leaders encounter several situations during the day that bring out emotional responses like anger, irritation, rage, fear, anxiety, etc. It’s important to learn some mindful practices that allow you to notice the emotional response and manage it in a practical way rather than being controlled by the trigger. Mindfulness practices help you to stay calm and take wise action.
Findings suggest that emotional intelligence positively impacts leadership effectiveness, mindfulness can serve as a method for growing Emotional Intelligence, and mindfulness can enhance the practice of leadership.*
Having some form of physical exercise enables one to have restful sleep. The recommended sleep of 8 hours is a must for busy leaders so that their bodies can heal themselves at night. After a restful sleep, one wakes up refreshed to tackle the challenges of a regular workday.
Having an early dinner, staying away from screens, keeping phones and computers away from the bedroom – all these things help to fall asleep with ease.
The therapeutic value of music cannot be emphasized enough.
Music is powerful. It affects our brains, our bodies, and our social connections. Music can have profound effects on our physical and psychological well-being. Researchers have discovered it can lessen pain, reduce depression, and decrease anxiety. In a meta-analysis of 400 studies, Daniel J Levitin, PhD, who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montréal found that music improves the body’s immune system function and reduces stress. Listening to music was also found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before surgery (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April, 2013).
Most leaders tend to have several playlists for music – an upbeat one, to listen to on the way to work; some white noise or natural sounds to play while working so as to concentrate better, calming instrumental music for the evenings, some meditative music to relax.
This list is helpful in getting one started towards creating a stress-free work life. It’s crucial to take out some time every day for self-care activities. Life is busy and there’s an unending and long to-do list. It’s time to put relaxation activities on the must-do list.
Journal of Leadership Education. 2019, Vol. 18 Issue 1, p200-212. 13p.
Author(s): Kaoun, Tarek M.