Most leaders and executives accept stress as a fact of life.
But is feeling stressed out normal? Or healthy?
Dan Miller is an internationally-renowned nutrition, fitness and wellness expert. He’s also an entrepreneur, speaker, ultra-runner and martial artist. We caught up with him ahead of his Vistage webinar on September 9th to discuss how leaders can combat stress in order to live healthier, happier lives.
Stress is a killer
While most leaders accept stress as an unavoidable bi-product of success, Dan says that this is a big mistake.
“Stress is attributed to 70 - 90% of every doctor visit in the US,” he says. “It’s not that different in the UK. But if it’s that deadly, why do we treat it like it’s normal? It’s not normal or OK to be stressed.”
Dan says that the first step in changing your relationship with stress is to understand what your stress mechanism is for.
“When we’re stressed, we’re triggering an ancient fight or flight mechanism that was designed to keep us alive in the event of a bear or tiger attack. But that same system turns on when we feel like we can’t handle a situation or a thought. If we have a perceived gap in our ability to handle something, that’s when we feel stress.”
"Our modern lives are fast-paced and unpredictable."
Our modern lives are fast-paced and unpredictable. Meetings, calls, traffic jams, colleagues, kids and phones that never stop buzzing all affect our stress levels.
“The average person sits in some kind of low-key fight or flight for 10 hours a day. And if you’re turning that same system on everyday, you need to take action or it will kill you. It won’t happen today. It might take thirty years and the doctor will call it heart disease or alcoholism, but that was stress.”
So how can leaders reduce their stress levels while still upholding their responsibilities?
Dan says the key to combating stress is to take action. “We can do amazing things if we just take action. That’s always my answer.”
Here are four key tactics Dan shared that will benefit any leader or executive.
#1 - Do some exercise
Exercise has been proven to have a massive impact on our mood and our fitness. One of the simplest ways to reduce your stress levels to do some exercise.
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“The hormones associated with fight or flight when we’re turning them on over job stress are the same hormones that go on in the event of a bear attack, they just don’t go on as high. So you can get rid of those hormones through exercise because you’re doing what the body is telling you to do, which is to run.
“That’s why people who exercise more tend to be less stressed, because they’re constantly dumping those physical hormones that are associated with fight or flight.”
#2 - Make a list
Cancelling your afternoon meetings because you’re feeling a bit stressed and fancy a run may sound great, but it’s not that practical. Most leaders need an alternative stress-busting tactic.
Dan says one of the best ways to combat stress requires nothing more than a pen and paper - or a phone or laptop if you prefer.
“Start making a list every time you’re stressed. I ask my clients, “What specifically are you stressed about? Can you write that down for me so we can both look at it? Then can you write down what you are going to do about it and why that will make it better.
A key part of reducing stress is understanding its source. By making a list of all the things that you’re stressed about, you turn an unpleasant feeling into a list that you can act on.
“If you want to feel less stressed then you need to get it out of your head.”
#3 - Bring in the tribe
Humans are hard-wired for social contact. The same primal instincts that trigger our stress response also make us long for and benefit from social interaction.
“Whether it’s in a Vistage group where you can seek the wise counsel of other members or a family or church community, never take everything on yourself. We’re not good at being locked away from contact. We’re social creatures. What’s the worst thing you can legally do to a prisoner? Solitary confinement. We need social interactions and it’s even more important when we’re stressed.
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Once you have your list of stress triggers, try to find people who you respect, who understand your situation who you can share your list with for feedback or reassurance.
“Interaction is so important. Whether they help you make the list or help you deal with the list or just look at it and say, ‘You know, you’re doing OK. You’re doing enough. Just go get some sleep.’ Sometimes we just need the reassurance that we’re doing enough so we can really let go.
#4 - Educate yourself
Stress is a response to the feeling that we can’t handle a situation - or even that we can’t handle the thought of a situation occurring.
A great way to overcome this feeling is to learn more about the thing that’s stressing you out. The more that you know and understand, the more manageable the thing becomes.
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“If you’re stressed about your finances, then I want to know how you are educating yourself about money so this doesn’t happen again. If you’re stressed about sales numbers being down, I want to see a list of things you’ve learned which could make that better. Maybe your marketing team needs to do more, you need to scale back manufacturing, you might need to find some different suppliers. Whatever it is, how are you educating yourself?”
Thanks to Dan for making the time to talk to us. Before the end of our conversation, we asked him if he had any final words for people who feel stressed out either in work or in their personal lives.
“It’s worth remembering that our lives are easy. If you’re in a position where you can read this or watch a webinar with me, you’re doing pretty great. If you have food, you’re doing well. It’s easy to take things too seriously. We take traffic too seriously. We take the barista making our coffee too seriously. But really, life is good.”
Join our webinar with Dan Miller on How to be a Healthy Happy Human on September the 9th.
Images via Adobe Stock and Pixabay