Levels of stress seem to be on the rise everywhere. How we deal with it affects our performance and career success. Career and leadership coach John M. McKee offers six tips and tactics that have helped his clients in demanding times.
I hear a lot of comments like this. But in this case, the speaker is a client who's actually a successful leader. She works in an organization that seems to be bulletproof when it comes to the recession's effects. There seems to be no risk to her at this stage. "So," you might ask, "why is SHE concerned?"
I think there are several, very compelling reasons for the way she's feeling. A lot of people are being impacted in a similar way:
- Every day we hear how bad the economy is. Even if you're not getting downsized, or losing a mortgage, or trying to recover some of your lost investments, you're exposed to the news everyday and everywhere. Like a healthy person eating junk food, it all starts building up internally. You can lose perspective, becoming more emotional and stressed out.
- There seems to be little precedent for this gloomy, worldwide situation. Usually, when times are tough, we can look to leaders, experts, or older or wiser individuals for guidance based on experience. It's comforting during a crisis to hear someone say that they've seen this before, and they know what to do to fix this thing. But this time seems different. Further, it seems worse than before. And everyone seems to be just guessing. Looking for guidance, we often hear conflicting feedback. Consequently, on a subconscious level, our minds keep engaged on the subject. We can't get that nourishing sleep or enjoy the good times quite like we did before.
- People's fight or flight response may kick in but not have any outlet. So your body gets charged up, ready to take action. But instead, you're spending time in the office, the car, or at home, and you're not doing anything physical. Your body and your psyche then react in a bad way because our systemic responses were designed to deal with problems physically. Likewise, very few people regularly do things to calm down those hormones and enzymes through mental practices.
Each of these reasons is insidious. Any one of them can create enough stress to cause someone who is physically and emotionally healthy to start exhibiting unhealthy symptoms. When combined, these three reasons could be a recipe for a disaster if they aren't dealt with effectively. Stress causes individuals to perform more poorly in all three key life aspects: career, personal, and financial. Most of us know that to be the case, but we don't do much about it.
Here are six suggestions I've been sharing with our clients at BusinessSuccessCoach.net:1. Take a deep breath. You've heard this many times, but here's the thing — you probably don't do it regularly. And it works. Doctors, sports coaches, and therapists will tell you that a deep breath, done thoughtfully, can do an amazing amount of good. It can clear your head, stop headaches, reduce your blood pressure, and make you less angry. That said, most people don't do it regularly and even less so during difficult situations. If you don't, you're wasting a great opportunity to mellow out at any time and any place. 2. Remember that, without an outlet, you will carry your stress in your body. It won't simply go away because the immediate aggravation is over for the time being. It manifests in things like back problems or stiff necks. It gets worse the longer you don't give your body the chance to get rid of it by doing something physical. So do something. It doesn't have to be demanding, just rejuvenating. For example, yoga is a great exercise for anyone at any level. Dancing(!) is great even by yourself. Anything to deal with the stress in a physical way. 3. Good sleep is critical. Without it, be prepared to face the consequences of becoming more emotional and less reasonable and less productive and more foggy, which is not great for your job performance. You'll also see signs of aging more quickly and have more aches and pains. Everyone has a reason why they can't sleep, such as the environment (their bed, their partner). Or they'll say they can't sleep due to their stress. The quality of the sleep is the issue — not how much time you spend in the bed. 4. Consider your diet. How much we eat and what we eat. Both can impact one's ability to perform at peak efficiency. We all know that when someone is overweight, it can create health problems, cause stress, and affect sleep habits. Additionally, a person's confidence may go downhill if they start having negative mental conversations with themselves about what they're doing or not doing to themselves. Underweight people can be equally as self-negative, of course. 5. Quiet the mind. We actually can just stop thinking about all the bad stuff around us. And when we do, we feel positive and more relaxed, and we do more things to amplify those good feelings. Success breeds success, and usually when we're on a roll, we do more of what we're doing to improve our situation further. Stop tracking the news as much. I'm not suggesting that we put our heads in the sand, only that we understand that the news isn't going to change a lot from day to day. You don't need to be a news junky, reading every piece of bad news that is generated. What you feed your mind becomes who you are. 6. Help someone. It feels really good to help others. It creates a rush that is difficult to create in any other way. There are people in worse situations than you are, and you can volunteer your service. It doesn't have to be a poor family down the road (although that's a wonderful place to start) — it can be that guy across the cube who is struggling with something that you think is simple, or perhaps your aunt who never gets invited out for dinner because she's a bit odd. This action helps improve your self-confidence and often improves your game at work. A bonus tip: Express gratitude. There's usually a couple of things that are good in everyone's life. It's valuable to focus on them. Regularly. Research on the subject indicates that being grateful for what we have is one of the primary causes of happiness and — here's the big one — greater success. That's right — those who are the most grateful for what they have in their lives enjoy more of those successes. Career, personal, and financial successes.