Today, I’d like to review why leaders must manage their stress and how they can go about doing so. I get it—being a leader is tough. You have demands and responsibilities to your customers, employees, and business owners. Stress is a constant staple in leadership positions, and while some stress can be useful, too much stress or dysfunctional stress can lead to serious problems. With the demands of today’s constantly connected world, it is no wonder that so many leaders are stressed and on the cusp of burnout. In fact, the World Health Organization lists chronic workplace stress as the leading cause of burnout. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning to manage your stress can help you be more productive, effective, and a better leader to your team. So, here are the top five tips for managing your stress.
1) Take Breaks: Taking breaks may seem like a simple thing to do, but, all too often, leaders forego breaks because they feel they have to address everything immediately. While a sense of urgency is undoubtedly important, leaders must learn to prioritize tasks and know when to take a break. Even a short, five-minute break to take a few deep breaths and refocus can do a world of good. Taking breaks throughout the day can make you more productive, so stop feeling guilty or that you can’t step away for a break.
2) Exercise Your Body and Mind: Exercise plays a critical role in managing stress, and it helps boost your mood. A healthy body and mind heal you from the negative effects of stress and help you stay positive and creative. Create a morning or evening exercise routine that either sets you up for the day or helps you wind down at night. This routine doesn’t have to be an extensive workout—almost any type of exercise will help with stress management. The key is to do something small every day. You can incorporate exercise and wellness into your work environment by stretching, adjusting your posture, taking the stairs, doing planks/pushups, etc. Taking a few deep breaths will help circulate oxygen through your blood and give your mind and body a boost. But, exercising your mind is just as important as exercising your body. During your day, set time aside to read. Read articles or books that interest you and will support your development. Take a few minutes throughout the day to let your mind wander. This practice will help you focus on a solution to a problem or challenge and is your best way to get creative. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do it consistently.
3) Manage Your Time: When we consult with companies, we often hear leaders complain that there is just not enough time in the day. Since we can’t add more hours to a day, we have to look at where our time goes each day and how we manage our workload. You not only have limited time each day, but you also have limited mental and physical energy, so you have to streamline tasks and get support. The key is proper prioritization and planning. Prioritize your work by determining what has to get done and by when. Delegate other duties to your team. If you are not comfortable delegating, then spend the time necessary to train your employees so that they can confidently execute certain tasks. We often recommend that leaders plan out their schedule each day. While schedules usually change, it is still a good way to understand what needs to get done and designate the necessary time to complete each task.
4) Build a Support System: Build a support system of people on whom you can unload, talk to, ask for help, or bounce ideas. These people should be peers both inside and outside of your company. Mentors are also a great part of any support system. Family and friends outside of work are also sources of support, but I always recommend that leaders minimize unloading work issues at home as this can create additional stress. With a strong support system, you will not feel alone in dealing with the burdens of leadership.
5) Focus on Bettering Yourself and Your Strengths: Stop comparing yourself to and competing with others. Too often, leaders are focused on competing with someone who is just naturally better than them at a certain task. Comparing yourself to others wastes valuable time and energy that is better spent focusing on improving yourself. Focus on bettering yourself by reflecting on situations and analyzing what went well and what needs to change in the future. Consider writing or journaling to capture your thoughts. Set goals and work to achieve them. It can be easy to lose focus on yourself as you balance many responsibilities. But, keep in mind that you are not useful to anyone if you are too stressed or burned out to do your job. Engage in hobbies or interests that you have outside of work. When you are off of work, try to disconnect completely. Give yourself the necessary downtime to refresh, and you will come to work more motivated and ready to perform.
Workplace stress is not going away, but there are ways to manage it. Try implementing these tips and see what a difference managing stress makes for you.