Executive Stress Management

"There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full." - Henry Kissinger

Stress is part of everyday life, and is perfectly normal. This does not mean however that it is healthy or inevitable! A recent survey indicated that more than three-quarters of working men and women say they'd gladly trade some of their income for more time flexibility to have a personal life. For today's executive the pressures of the modern world can be overwhelming!

Recent evidence however suggests that stress can be counterproductive. In a London Business School study more than 100 executives in over 20 countries, were surveyed to determine the key characteristics and attributes that potential executives need. 'Managers who are less prone to stress and more focused on personal development make better leaders.'

Above all else, the research indicates that candidates need to be 'more thoughtful, more aware, more flexible, more adaptive managers'. It's more important for leaders to be more people-focused than content-focused.

There are however four basic strategies, gathered from executive coaches who regularly work with high-pressured executives, that are worthwhile taking note of:

First, exercise. A brisk walk at lunchtime will do the trick (or any other exercise for at least 30 minutes per day). Significant benefits include cardiovascular health, mental agility, increased HDL (good cholesterol), and a lower tendency to let a complicated situation become a stressful one.

Second, maintain healthy relationships. Research shows that resilience in the workplace is derived mostly from strong, encouraging relationships outside of work.

Third, get centred. When hard-working executives do not take time for introspection, their performance, and ultimately, that of the company is undercut. Dr. Harold Bloomfield observed in his book The Power of 5: 'It's no accident that the word deadline contains the word dead; the human body is not well-suited to time-struggle.'

Fourth, keep perspective. Many high-level career failures are due to the inability of stressed leaders to look at things in perspective and make informed decisions. Work-life balance is clearly important and one's career need to be part of the 'bigger picture' that includes time for playing, relaxing, creating and, of course, plenty of laughter.

Insufficient exercise, drinking too much or becoming a control freak can lead to a slippery slope that makes the pressure worse and the workload seem unachievable. Mental agility declines, while the view that the outside world doesn't want to help, or isn't up to the job, increases. The reaction is actually creating the problem. It can be either a vicious or virtuous circle!

When executives follow basic stress management rules they are able to increase their control enough to keep up with the competition as well as living joyful and balanced lives.

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