According to a Harris Interactive survey conducted for the American Psychological Association, 41 percent of employed adults feel stressed out during a typical workday.
Although the poll sampled employees and the self-employed, I believe the number would have been much higher had the survey included only business owners and senior executives.
With all due respect to the average employee, the levels of pressure faced by executives and entrepreneurs can be “off the charts.”
It’s stressful at the top.
From an outsider’s perspective, sitting on top of the corporate pyramid puts you in the driver’s seat. In reality, of course, working with business partners, customers, investors, suppliers, etc. merely reveals the limits of your control.
The higher you are, the higher the stakes.
Loss of clients, threats of lawsuits, employee issues, fear of being unable to pay the rent or your employees. These, and many other concerns, can feed a river of sleepless nights, making you feel like you’re fighting a never-ending battle. Stress can come from any direction because so many things can go wrong-- things for which you are directly responsible.
Are you going to fight or flee?
By the way, the “never-ending battle” metaphor is apt because stress is caused by our primal instinct to fight or flee. In the modern world, neither option is (usually) a viable one. The result, therefore, is anxiety generated by our inability to pursue one of those hired-wired options.
Although there’s no magic stress-reduction formula that works for everyone, every time, I’ve discovered five techniques that have been effective for me – techniques I’d like to share:
1. Box Breathing.
This is a tool I discovered while reading a book about Navy SEALs. Navy SEALs, who conduct high-stress, life-and-death operations throughout the world, must be trained to control their fear and stress in order to succeed (and survive).
Use a visual aid like this one, start by: (1) inhaling for four seconds (as the circle expands); (2) then hold your lungs full for four seconds (as the circle stays fully expanded); (3) exhale for four seconds (as the circle shrinks), and then (4) hold your lungs empty for four seconds (as the circle is contracted).
Repeat as many times as it takes to calm down. This technique has helped me in very stressful situations--situations in which my heart was racing out of control. By performing the breathing exercise, I was able to lower my heart rate, regain composure and control my stress.
Positive self-talk may seem like New Age baloney, but it can actually work. Positive self-talk helps you realize that that fear is a choice. By “accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative” it can go a long way toward helping you regain composure in even the most stressful circumstances. It’s like having a therapist or a life coach on call 24/7.
When dealing with stressful situations that may endure for months, you cannot neglect your diet and eat unhealthy foods just because they’re quick and easy. You need to put even more focus on eating healthy foods and staying well hydrated.
During stressful times, the body’s immune system can easily be compromised. Failing to adequately nourish and hydrate yourself only increases the odds that you will literally become “sick with worry.” Stress + poor diet often leads to maladies such as headaches, insomnia and high blood pressure.
Focus on proper hydration and vitamin intake during stressful periods because your body is being taxed at a higher level than it normally is.
This may be one of the last things on your mind during stressful episodes. You may already feel exhausted and worn out. But continuing your exercise program (or initiating a new regimen)--one that includes walking, lifting or light resistance exercise--will help clear your mind, lower stress levels, and generate positive feelings.
When you exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins. These interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings (similar to the feelings produced by morphine).
If you don’t want to drag yourself to the gym, or do 50 push-ups next to your desk, just remember how much better you felt the last time you finished a good workout.
5. “This too shall pass.”
When your livelihood and your company seem to be in jeopardy, emotions can become intense. But if you maintain the proper perspective, you’ll realize that the situation will be resolved.
Change is the only certainty in life is change, so keep in mind that however bad things may be today, this state of affairs will not last. Whenever events seem to be spinning out of control, take a moment to put everything into perspective.
Take a walk, meditate, pray or do something that helps you focus your thoughts on the bigger picture. The stress you feel now will fade in time.