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Stress getting worse? Try this

Today more than ever, it's important that you're operating at your peak. Business demands are increasing, and keeping at the top of your game is even more important. Here, leadership coach John M McKee shares some ideas that his clients have used successfully to deal with stress effectively.
 "I'm stressed out. Pressure's building. I can't sleep through the whole night anymore. My performance is getting worse just when I need to be at the top of my game. Help!"

The client who said this to me didn't take much comfort in the fact that I'm hearing a lot of similar statements lately. From guys and gals. Leaders, supervisors, and single professionals are feeling the heat more now than ever. And my client was right when she said that it's during the tough times that we really need to be running at 100 percent - not struggling to keep our head clear in the middle of the day.

Turned out she'd become sleep deprived. It can occur to anyone. Often, it's the result of the big stuff wearing us down (you know - the economy, the mortgage crisis, growing layoffs, established companies going down, etc). However, the small stuff (like not being able to go out for dinner as frequently, or trading down one's car because the lease deals aren't what they were before) can build up on us as well. It all takes a toll.

So, how can you tell if you're sleep deprived? And what can you do to ensure that you're keeping up with life's demands? (Disclosure, in case you forgot that this blog is called Leadership Coach and not Doctor John: I'll remind you that I have no medical background, I'm not a pharmacist, or a therapist. Just a former business leader who became a coach.) I've come across a few things that work for many people and may be helpful for you as well. Here are a few things to noodle:

1. Do you fall asleep every night within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow? You're probably sleep deprived. Most people who report being well rested tell me that they take a longer amount of time each night, usually more like 8 to 15 minutes before the Sandman comes. 2. Can you fall asleep on a plane, in the car's backseat, or on a bus a moment after sitting down? I know business people who brag about this ability to "power nap." They see it as a good thing, but it's usually the opposite. Their body is simply really exhausted, trying to grab a few winks at any opportunity. 3. Do you fumble for the right words more often then you did before? This can be attributed to senior citizenship of course; but for those under 50, it likely has to do with the number of hours or the quality of your sleep each night. When we aren't well rested, our memory falters. This impacts our job performance. Importantly, it makes us less "bullet proof" when employment and promotion decisions are being made. 4. Do you wake up a few times every night? If so, try to figure out what is that is causing you to break that important REM time. If it's the same stuff repeatedly that is causing you to lose sleep, then you've got to consciously deal with it. Or else your sub-conscious is going to keep trying - and that wakes you up. I realize some things are out of our control and we simply can't "fix" them. But you should address them.

My advice is that you discuss the issues with friends, family, therapists, coaches, whatever. That alone may help get the stuff off your mind and allow you to sleep better. As a bonus, you may get some solid advice to fix the hassles causing you difficulty.

There are some symptoms that I look for in my clients who tell me their effectiveness is going downhill. Check yourself out to see if you've got any of them:

- You're more emotional than usual, loss of energy, lessened focus.

-If you feel far too sad over the plight of the doctors on Greys Anatomy than usual, or have little interest in taking that run around the block like you've always enjoyed before now, or if you seem to have so many thoughts in your head that you can't prioritize, then it's time to take some action.

Here are a couple of more suggestions. I've seen these used successfully by habitually sleepless types:

If you're the kind of person who doesn't need an alarm to wake up for the day - try unplugging the clock or cover it up. Otherwise, when you do awaken in the night, it's the first thing you'll check. That leads to thinking. And then getting the "business head" engaged. Consider the clock a disruptor. And finally, here's an approach that works really well for some people trying to get a better quality of sleep - Before your normal bedtime, go someplace else where you can have some peace and quiet. Lie down and just think about relaxing and clearing your head from the day.

Give yourself 15 minutes in this kind-of-Zen state each evening. You may find you nod off but it won't be for a long time in most circumstances. After the 15 minutes, get ready for bed as normal and hit the rack. Don't allow yourself to think about the job or whatever it is that has you stressed. Just keep going back to the nice Zen state from earlier and let yourself go to sleep.

Face your sleep issues head-on. Like most of life's hassles, you may be impressed with your outcome when you do.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

9 comments
rgkjr1
rgkjr1

This article offers some great advice. But consider that sleeplessness can also be a sign of a sleeping disorder, many of which can be easily treated. After years of being chronically tired, dozing for 10-15 seconds numerous times a day at work, losing my train of thought, etc., I decided to talk to my doctor who prescribed a sleep study. After being diagnosed with a common sleeping disorder and treated, all of the above symptoms have gone away. I've even lost weight! Sleeping disorders can cause great damage to your body, too; it can be extremely serious! All of the symptoms mentioned in the article above are typical of sleeping disorders. Talk to your doctor about doing a sleep study if you think this might be an issue. http://www.google.com/search?q=sleeping+disorders&rls=com.microsoft:*&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&startIndex=&startPage=1

gdixon
gdixon

Earlier this year I had all the above symptoms, and it was really getting me upset. I wasn't the same person I used to be and didn't like the person I was becoming. I chatted to a counsellor friend of mine who gave me a great tip. Clouds move across the sky. They start where we cannot see them, they come into view, they pass by and then they disappear over the horizon. When you wake up at night, treat the thought(s) like the clouds - allow them to pass by and disappear. I know this sounds a bit "airey fairy" (pun intended), but it has worked wonders for me. I now get a lot more full nights of sleep and on the nights I do wake up thinking about things, I get back to sleep within a minute (if not seconds). Occasionally I get thoughts that keep me awake, but this has now become an exception. I am loving it, and so is my family. I am getting back to the person I was, and I am better focused at work and happier at home. This simple process has really helped me, I hope it helps someone else too.

.Martin.
.Martin.

October last year, when I went through a temporary-insomniac period (lots of fun) it eventually went away, but I haven't slept really well since :(

stinkypoople
stinkypoople

It really has been difficult to get rest, I don't personally think I've had a good night sleep since I was in Elementary school. One might also want to see a doctor for advice or look into medical reasons for the poor rest. It might be a thyroid condition, diabetes, or other medical issue that is complicating matters, is also the source, or a result of, and those need to be treated. If it isn't that then when you can't rest, it's usually good to have a ritual that tells your body it's time to sleep and scent amazingly works. Just an aroma that you associate with sleeping, it works better than any pill. I didn't believe it when I was told it, but it really works. Otherwise I do get stressed, but for the most part worry about what you can do something about, and put the rest aside. Yeah, the economy is going bust, but can you personally do something about it? No, everything will go its own path, but never give up hope no matter how bad things are. Personally I know, my job has had so many cut backs and my hours have been severed so much, but I'm in there with a bunch of people who have become nut jobs for the hours and money. I look at it as good that I am being cut, I don't have to see these other people self-destruct.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

But it can be fixed without sleep aids.

dave
dave

And to your counsellor. I will try this.

gabrieljosh
gabrieljosh

Just wanna share this... Yoga is an excellent exercise for Stress Relief. Sharing your problems with your loved ones can also help you get rid of stress. Aggressiveness and headaches are some of the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. You can join weekend seminars on stress and tension management too. Red wine, if taken in moderate amount, provides quick 'stress relief'. Stress is brought on by physical and emotional issues. For those individuals suffering from stress, their brain actually emits hormones which may cause changes in their body. One of the changes most often related to stress is increased blood pressure. Aggressiveness and headaches are some of the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress. Yoga is an excellent exercise for Stress relief. Sharing your problems with your loved ones can help you get rid of stress. You can also join weekend seminars, clinics and training programs focused on stress and tension management.

farrell.lawrence16
farrell.lawrence16

I used to worry when I would wake up in the middle of the night, but something happens that I never gave myself credit for; some of my best insights to challenges or problems have come to me by just letting my mind wander and not worry about getting back to sleep. Turns out that all the information that I have been gathering (sometimes without knowing it) often comes together in those sleepless moments; my brain seems to synthesize all its input and works to put it in a form that I can understand. I don't worry about sleeplessness anymore because I stopped thinking about this as a problem (for me!). As a psychologist, I know that there are real sleep disorders that may need to be treated in some way, I do not want to minimize the harm that may come from being chronically sleep-deprived. Sleep apnea (not enough oxygen to the brain), smoking, too much caffeine within hours of bedtime, various physical aliments can also contribute. If this is a problem for you and you have access to a good-sized medical facility, most have sleep disorder clinics so that one can get a proper workup. This problem is much more common that we might believe, but there are possible solutions without resorting to 'sleep medications' which can be very habit-forming; plus their usefulness diminishes over time. Don't know if this is helpful to anyone out there, just my two or three cents.

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