Healthy Reads

3 Ways to Manage Stress as a CEO

Posted by David Pong, M.D. on Jun 5, 2019

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David Pong, M.D., Medical Director, Executive Health & Wellness Programs and PartnerMD CEO Zack Smith

To address the unique stressors in your life as a busy business owner with many people depending on you, let’s first consider what you can change. Grab a pen and piece of paper and write down:

  • The external situations causing you the most stress right now.  It could be an employee letting you down, a difficult client, marital stress or caring for an aging parent. These are your stressors.
  • The activities that you rely on for downtime, “me time” or time that allows your brain to shut off and recharge. These are your short-term distractors.
  • Your reactions to stress. Do you get frustrated with others? Do you lose sleep? Do you eat poorly? These are your symptoms that you can be more mindful of when they occur.

Now that you’ve written down the main areas of current cause, effect and management of stress, we can start to refine your unique stress management strategy. And just as unique as we all are, each of us will end up with different way to manage our stress.  In general, there are three main steps better stress management.

  1. Address the External Source of Stress

Now that you’ve identified your stressors, you can start to determine how to remove or minimize these external sources of stress. This might be what runs through your head at night and keeps you from falling back asleep at 2:00 a.m. It could be a situation you are avoiding because you’re not quite sure how to handle it yet. As long as you’re not dealing with it all, it’s not going to go away.

So, next to each of your stressors, write down why you’re not dealing it. Be honest with yourself. Are you afraid to have the tough conversation? Do you think you need more time to decide? Is there not enough time in your day?

Next write down one small step towards starting to solve this stressor. Is it a question that needs to be answered first? Do you need to delegate it to someone else? What one step can you make on each one to start to limit and remove that stress - or at least remove the physical or emotional roadblock to solving for it? Even a small step in the right direction starts to minimize the stressor, plus it lowers your body’s negative reaction to that stressor by knowing that you’re working on it.

  1. Avoid and Distract from the Source of Stress

As busy as you are as a CEO, you actually can take a mini-break from stress through short periods of avoidance or distraction. In fact, the irony is that taking mini-breaks from stress allows you to take on even greater stress in short bouts. This is probably the most common method of stress management, and it comes in many forms as you listed above under your distractors.

Examples can be checking your social media feeds, brief exercise or even a walking break in the middle of your day, playing a video game, or binging the latest on Netflix at night on the sofa. Anything that allows your brain to think about something other than your stress counts as a distraction that helps you avoid feeling stress for a brief period and allows your body and mind to recharge. Even the greatest athletes in the world take small breaks from training so that their brain and muscles can recharge and come back even stronger.

  1. Modify Your Response to Stress

Changing your internal response to stress requires introspection, but it also helps you develop a new set of skills to better manage stress for the long term. Now that you’ve identified the symptoms you exhibit when you’re stressed, you can more easily recognize them and change your reaction in the moment. Instead of the short-term reactions like raising your voice, choosing the unhealthy menu item, or delaying a critical business decision yet again, you can now work to change your reaction to a healthy one – both for you and your business.

Our physicians and health coaches at PartnerMD often recommend various forms of box breathing, meditation and mindfulness to assist in stress management. Learning to breathe more deeply through your belly and with intention to clear your mind can have powerful effects on your body’s physical and mental reaction to stress. Plus, it allows you as a CEO to get out of the rut of responding quickly out of habit and reflex, and into the more effective method of reacting with intention and productive outcomes. And if nothing else, just watch what happens to your employees and your kids when they see you inhale and exhale deeply with your eyes closed instead of yelling or complaining about the latest problem to solve.

Meditation is a powerful tool that allows you to become a neutral observer. One of the most important parts of meditation is the non-judgmental awareness -- of seeing things for what they are rather than what you think they should be. The goal of meditation is not to think of nothing; it’s to ground you in the present making your more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations without necessarily reacting to them. We can recognize our thoughts and then let them go. This physical practice over time can actually rewire your brain to stimulate calm, happiness and even more creative problem solving. In order to change how we react to stress, we first need to have this awareness.

Quick Tips for Beginners

In addition to the three-step process above, here are a few additional tips and easy activities to get you started.

  • Try journaling to get negative emotions out of your head and onto paper. Journaling is a great way to get both positive business ideas and negative emotions out for you to see them and more readily act on them. The most successful CEOs frequently tout the power of journaling and attribute much of their business growth to this daily reflective process.
  • If sitting in silence is too much, go for a walk outside. Try to take a different route than before, notice something new this time, or focus on each of your five senses while walking. What can you hear, see, taste, feel, smell?
  • Seek out an expert, such as a counselor practicing cognitive therapy or a certified health coach, to hone your skills. Even leveraging free apps on your phone like Calm or Headspace is a great place to start.

Ready to learn even more and put a plan in place to better address the stress in your life?

PartnerMD offers free consultations with a certified health coach to help you identify ways to better manage stress. Request a wellness visit today. 

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Topics: Executive Health


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