If you don't manage stress, it manages you

by Colin Thompson

Stress is a stealthy and sometimes perplexing influence in our lives. It can motivate us to great accomplishments. Or it can nearly paralyze us.
The good news is that, while we often can not control the "in" box of external pressures that weigh on us, we can always control how we think about them and how we choose to deal with them. The bad news is that, if we have not been taking care of ourselves physically and mentally, our ability to handle inevitable stressors may be severely limited -- and our health compromised.

When you do not manage stress, it manages you.

My goal is to enlighten you about how  managing your stress, adjusting your thinking and conquering change.

How Stress Affects You

Chronic stress -- lasting four months or more -- can compromise your immune system and make it more likely that you will fall ill. If you think stress is something you'll get around to addressing "someday" in your life, it's time to take stock. Beyond the physical impact that stress can have, studies show that chronic stress interferes with our ability to think. It attacks those areas of the brain responsible for acquisition of new information -- our ability to learn something new and to access that which we already have learned. And here's the kicker: We need clear thinking to stay on top of our stress.

The demands of a CEO's job (and any job) can be energizing or exhausting. Which of these is the prevailing reaction for you?

Resisting Change: The Allure of the Status Quo

You are the central problem in your life. From that perspective, you also become the solution.

Many people know that the way they are handling stress is debilitating, yet they refuse to change. No wonder: undertaking change, in itself, creates stress. So they may engage in denial, or avoid it by relying on their "proven" methods to reduce their stress, such as having several drinks of alcohol every night. Our bodies and minds sometimes are in conflict; but the pain of change may in fact be less than the pain of the status quo. Adopt the mindset that the other person in your relationships is not the problem, you are the problem. In fact, you are the central problem in your life. From that perspective, you also become the solution.

A "Stress-Busting'" Attitude

Developing a positive, stress-busting attitude is the first step to taking charge of stress. Remember: `You` can not control many things that happen to you, but you can control your attitude.

One technique to thwart stress, involves doing a "gross impact activity" -- pounding something -- to release tension in a productive way. Opportunities to fight stress range from hitting a punching bag to running or jogging (pounding the pavement), or hacking at weeds. By working off steam, we can calm ourselves. By exercising choice in our attitudes, we can make changes and become master of our moods. By choosing our "self-talk" carefully, we can redirect our behavior and actions.

Accountability: A Key to Defusing Stress

As pressures build at the office, you may vent in frustration or anger -- which only raises the level of stress in your world. The pent-up stress that you release may be absorbed by, and accumulating in your employees.

Can some of your stress be traced to the fact that your organization is not operating from a position of accountability? I recommend these steps to building accountability:

  • Adopt the right attitude
  • Be accountable yourself
  • Hold others accountable
  • Write down your priorities
  • Make and expect commitments
  • Get and give support

It's also important to be able to delegate effectively, and let go. Steps I recommend to do this are:

  • Be clear about the results you want
  • Establish a date/time for completion
  • Schedule a date for a progress report

Managing Yourself for Stress Reduction

In order to manage yourself, I recommend creating two types of lists:

  • A Master To Do List
  • A Six Most Important Things to Do List

These simple self-imposed activities can help you accomplish everything from remembering where the keys are to accomplishing a major project.

Rx: Relaxation

To manage tomorrow's stress, you must begin today. I and other experts agree that techniques like learning the "Relaxation Response," meditating, and doing aerobic exercise will all benefit executives interested in managing their stress. The catch is: you can not expect to begin these activities when you're stressed and expect results.
I recommend for meditation or practicing the relaxation response, you need to devote 10 to 20 minutes daily. For aerobic exercise to offer optimum benefit, you need to do at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, and be sure to warm up at least five minutes before doing any exercise that will put stress on your heart. Regularly following stress-immunization activities gives us the ability to bounce back and take charge of stressful circumstances as they arise.

Regularly following stress-immunization activities gives us the ability to bounce back and take charge of stressful circumstances as they arise.

Change Your Focus

Many stress management techniques focus inward --on what you can do to relax and reduce tension. Another way to diminish stress,  is by focusing on others, and pursuing balance.

  • The best leader is the best servant, so executives ought to be serving everybody they lead.
  • To attain balance, you may need to learn how to play non-competitively. Think about any fun you had as a child that did not involve winning. What was it? How could you revive that interest today, or take up something similar?

Change Your Life

Stress management techniques can help you cope with stress in your life. Change can help you remove many of the stressors.  Meditating or working out may help you cope with trouble in your marriage, but it will not help you change the status quo--underlying issues that may be causing stress. Tough but important questions are:

  • How can I have a better marriage?
  • What can I do to have a better relationship with my children?
  • How can I work on my relationship with my business partner?

Fundamentally, how can you put your highest values to work in your life? And that should be one set of values -- whether you're at home or at work.

Being healthy can be defined as 'the ability to love, work, play and think soundly. To be healthy and manage stress optimally,  you may need to cope --and change. Have fun and be positive with your stress-busting attitude, as you manage your life.

Give your feedback to Colin. He can be reached at [email protected].