It, like stress, which it is often a metaphor for, breaks the backs of camels and men alike.
As Precision Nutrition’s Krista Scott-Dixon and Brian St. Pierre enumerate in their article, “Good stress, bad stress”, there are multiple types of stress. Bad stress includes such things as dealing with terrible weather or yet another MTA delay. However, exercise and amusement park rides constitute good stress for most people.
Regardless of the type of stress, it gradually builds up, much like the aforementioned straw, with its destructive properties sure to follow. So then, how do we, not just manage stress, but rather thrive in stress inducing/producing situations? The answers lie in properly addressing the following concepts:
- Balance (focus is on the physical)
- Mindset (focus is on the mental)
When it comes to balance, it is not simply something to be brought to the force. We must also bring balance to our lives, or else our ‘backs’ and our spirits will be broken due to inevitable inordinate levels of accumulated stress. However, as Sheryl Sandberg highlighted in her 2013 magnum opus, Lean In, our entire notion of balance probably needs to be reenvisioned.
Instead of viewing this concept as a ledger that must have a zero-sum balance, a more effective perspective is to imagine our life demands as balls to be juggled. While we can’t juggle all of these demands simultaneously, we can, and should, prioritize different tasks/events at different time periods.
For example, as a quarter draws to a close, we should probably spend most of our awake time at work, focusing on such things as pertinent tasks to grow our business. However, having such a schedule daily leads to significantly high levels of cortisol production and is not sustainable long-term. This strategy will lead to chronic fatigue, burnout, and diminished productivity relatively quickly, as well as a host of other health-related issues, such as sleeping problems, suppressed immunity, hypertension, and weight gain.
However, there are three things, which when done right, can keep our cortisol levels low and our productivity high:
- Drink green tea. A study in Japan, led by Keiko Unno of the University of Shizuoka, found that green tea is a proven stress reliever and calming agent. This is due to the amino acid, L-theanine, which inhibits cortisol and promotes alpha waves in the brain. Therefore, green tea has many benefits, including simultaneously relieving/reducing stress, improving sleep quality, improving cognition, and increasing overall well-being.
- Exercise regularly. There is a myriad of studies that have shown the many benefits of exercise, so I won’t rehash them here. So, whether your exercise of choice is TRX or sex, the main thing is to heed the advice of Nike, and just do it.
- Vacation/travel regularly. Exploring new places, and getting away from work to do it, will give you events to look forward to, as well as help you stay focused at work before and after trips to help you perform at a high level over a long period of time. This is especially important for those in leadership positions, as David Kiger astutely points out, “There is too much at stake, and too many people are counting on [you]. Time off can be an effective way to prevent feelings of being overwhelmed and lacking the energy to get past those feelings.” (By the way, Google Flights is a game-changer when it comes to planning vacations.)
The second prong in our attack on stress has to deal with focusing on the mental side of accumulated stress. Here are three ways to change our mindset:
- Meditation. Whether we chant the yogi AUM, the woosah popularized by detectives Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, or another meditation protocol entirely, numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of meditation, such as improved memory and resilience. Do this for just five minutes daily and reap the myriad of benefits.
- Know your limits. This strategy of knowing how much stress you can handle comes from Scott-Dixon and St. Pierre. “Be reasonable about your individual capabilities and expectations.” Unlike Eminem or Kristin Wells, you can’t be Superman or Superwoman.
- Think big picture. According to expert Dr. Immanual Joseph, “Big picture thinking is the ability to keep the bigger vision of successful leadership without getting caught up in negative dialogues and excuses that rise with challenges at work. It is the skill to see the forest for the trees and the ability to take the 10,000-feet view when challenges arise.”
Joseph continues, “Big picture thinking allows leaders to act proactively rather than reactively. This helps avoid unnecessary conflict at work and creates emotional resilience. Cultivated as a habit, big picture thinking can help manage people and time with grace and help turn challenges into opportunities.” Big picture thinking allows us to see challenges, such as stress, in context. We are then able to contrast and reframe current challenges against a bigger reality. So, when it comes to facing stress, the key here is to think big.
Now that we’ve covered different ways to think about and handle stress, there’s only one thing left to do:
Simma Down Now.
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