How is your stress level lately?
In a recent training session with one of our partners OnCourse Learning I shared several approaches to healthy stress management for leaders of remote teams. Good news: these tips apply to just about everyone!
Stay tuned for yourself or share with someone else! The following stress-reducing practical ideas also help to:
- Reduce mental fatigue
- Avoid overwhelm and anxiety
- Preserve your energy
- Enhance your creativity
First, let’s check in on what stress is and how it affects us.
The Merriam-Webster definition of stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.”
We all know extra stress can cause health challenges.
Additionally, stress can lead to anxiety and its ripple effects.
Anxiety is defined as “Medical : an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of a threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”
Many people have experienced how the feeling of overwhelm increases stress and anxiety.
We can’t always avoid overwhelm entirely, but we can guard against it by practicing ways to gain perspective and shift habits that lead to overwhelm.
Sometimes, buckling down and working harder is a good way to “dig out” when overwhelmed with to-dos. When we feel more in control, we can see solutions more easily and can get back to normal.
However, as I discovered while researching my book overwhelm can seem to sneak up and after a while can seem normal. This happens when a temporary situation lingers on into what I call “long-term temporary” where there is no real end in sight. Then we can feel trapped, buried under obligations and unsure how to get out.
Tip #1 If you’ve been overwhelmed for too long, it helps to acknowledge that toughening up and just grinding through the work is only effective for a little while. It’s time to consider options and give yourself a deadline. If needed, get help from a buddy, coach, or therapist to stick to your plan.
Tip #2 Keep your focus on things you can control. Each time you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself what you do have control over. Write down all your available options, from small to large, serious to silly, and you’ll feel better each time you make an intentional decision.
Tip #3 Take a break when you feel overwhelmed. Step away from what’s overwhelming. Focus on something else. Ideally do something physical for a little while since it’s likely to help your body process stress chemicals, increase oxygen and blood flow, and reduce tension. A walk around the block or up and down stairs are popular options. When you come back, you’ll be more likely to think of a creative solution that could help.
Tip #4 Remember that baby steps climb mountains and seek to break down overwhelming tasks into tiny steps (usually the tinier, the better since they feel more doable).
RIDE ONE ROLLERCOASTER AT A TIME
So many clients tell me they struggle with too much to do and feel guilty about working when they’re supposed to be doing personal stuff -and- feel guilty while with their family or taking care of personal needs when they still have so much work to do.
My response is often “You cannot enjoy two rollercoasters at the same time.”
When it comes to things to do, choose one and enjoy that ride fully, then when it’s time to get off, you can go enjoy the next more fully.
Tip #5 Plan in the most important work and personal activities each day, then practice being fully present by tuning into each activity one at a time, knowing the other things are planned in.
You also should never have to choose between having a successful career and being happy and healthy! A holistic approach is the only way to thrive in work and life- so – you may have to get creative.
Tip #6 Ask yourself “How Can I?” How can I get enough sleep, get that project done, and go to that basketball game too? Expect a creative solution to come to mind, and it often will!
Part of the stress equation is mental fatigue.
Decision fatigue is cited as one of the contributors to leaders feeling more mentally fatigued than others. You’ve heard the idea that there is only so much willpower and as the day goes on, it gets harder and harder to stick to the plan based on willpower alone.
This might explain why so many of us give up on the after-work exercise and healthy cooking session and settle in with Netflix and pizza delivery. Unfortunately, less sleep and nutrients lead to additional fatigue…
Tip #7 Make decisions ahead of time and stick to the plan. Habits such as identifying your top priority tasks and planning your outfit the night before can help you save some decision energy, allowing you to preserve mental freshness for later. What could you decide ahead of time?
RESET YOUR ATTITUDE
If you’re constantly in hustle mode and never take time for reflection, you’ll benefit from a daily pause practice. This could look like whatever you need it to, but here are some favorites based on hundreds of clients’ results and personal experience:
Tip #8 Track your mood daily. I recommend the Calm app most often (which also has short, guided meditations, music for focus, and sleep stories to help you drift off easily), but there are many apps so pick one you like. A journal will also work well.
Each day, make a note of how you’re feeling. Ideally, you’ll also take 5 minutes to reflect on what’s happening in your life, which helps to process emotions and may help you see patterns you hadn’t noticed before (such as feeling more emotional or more confident after a visit from someone or a challenging project, etc).
Tip #9 Commit to a 21-day Gratitude Challenge. Find one online, download an app, or just grab a notepad and list 3-5 things you’re grateful for every day. Because we are prone to always looking forward at what’s coming at us next, as well as listening to our inner self-critic, this practice helps us create more balance though acknowledging what’s going well! Observe how you feel over this time, and you’ll probably want to keep going after 21 days
TAKE A BREATH
One of the simplest and most effective means of reducing your stress response is to breathe more deeply.
Research shows a correlation between the way you breathe and the way you think and feel. Especially any time you’re feeling challenged, PAUSE and try the technique the Navy SEALS use Combat Breathing (also called Tactical or Box Breathing).
Tip #10 Try tactical breathing in 4 steps any time you want to, with the aim of calm, full breaths for a few minutes:
Step 1- Breathe in for 4 counts
Step 2 Hold gently for 4 counts
Step 3 Release your breath 4 counts
Step 4 Hold gently for 4 counts
4 seconds is recommended for each step and keep going for 1-5 minutes. If you decide to put this to work, make it your own variation – whatever works best for you is great!
Bonus Tip: Clean Out Your Email
You’ve probably been putting it off because it takes time. Don’t let it fester and lurk like an undone to-do, which can add to low-grade anxiety.
Even just 30 dedicated minutes on Friday in could help send you into a weekend feeling more refreshed. Get rid of half-written replies, drafts that will never be sent, and expired sale notifications. Unsubscribe to stuff you never read.
Now you have some easy-to-apply ideas you can use to manage stress, feel less overwhelmed, reduce fatigue, and enhance creativity. Which will you try first?
PS- If tips like these don’t seem to be helping you manage your stress or anxiety concerns, consider exploring alternatives.
Want to read more? Take a look at at this blog post from the same series, Tips for Supporting Your Best Self and Being Productive While Working From Home