Being able to remain calm under pressure is directly linked to how you perform. Not surprisingly, 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in stressful times. This means that they are in control and as a result make much better decisions.
Stress can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. A 2012 Yale Study shows that prolonged stress can cause shrinkage in the parts of the brain that regulate emotional functions such as self-control and important physiological functions – such as regulation of blood pressure and glucose levels. This may make it even more challenging for individuals to deal with future stress as their ability to control their reactions becomes restricted.
Some may react by shouting, for example, thus causing a rise in blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol. Others may react by overindulging in food, alcohol, gambling or other numbing behavior generating all the negative side-effects that accompany those. Ultimately a sense of dis-ease pervades the individual on many levels.
Stress is a necessary state, because without it we are not spurred into action. Think sabre-toothed tiger and our ancestors. Stress would cause him to fight, flight or freeze. Our brains need a certain level of emotion to become activated.
It is when stress is present over a long period of time, that it becomes more dangerous. The brain is resilient and can repair itself. Controlling stress allows it that time to recover. Intermittent stress probably keeps the brain more alert.
However, when experienced over a longer more constant period – the brain does not get that recovery period and thus its ability to generate new cells is restricted.
Studies have shown us that developing Emotional Intelligence competencies such as self-awareness, self-control, empathy, flexibility and relationship building are key to helping us manage stress effectively.
Successful business leaders who have mastered stress in their business and indeed personal lives use some of the following strategies:-
1. Breathe! Yes, I know we do it all the time, but are you aware of how you breathe? Is your breath shallow and fast, are you holding your breath, are you breathing deeply and slowly? Breathing slowly and deeply, even for a few seconds allows your logical brain to get involved in the situation, thus diluting a purely emotional response.
Tip: Try taking 10 minutes, sitting in your chair, feet firmly on the floor. Concentrate only on breathing in and out, counting the breaths if it helps you focus. Your mind will wander but come back to the breathing again. this will give your brain a rest and help you feel grounded. It does require a bit of practice but you’ll be surprised at the energy you feel afterwards.
2. Have a support system. Leaders often feel that the buck stops with them and they have to shoulder everything on their own. They may feel that asking for help is a weakness. Not so, building an empathic supportive network around you is smart.
Tip: Identify colleagues who support you, can give you honest feedback and share different perspectives to widen your horizons. This ensures you don’t feel alone and it also strengthens those relationships.
3. They appreciate what they have. Feeling gratitude is not just a new-age feel-good thing. Research at the University of California found that people who work on a daily basis to cultivate and attitude of gratitude showed that it reduced cortisol levels by 23%.
Tip: Appreciating how far you have come and what you have achieved, also improves levels of self-confidence. This, in turn, helps you to quell negative self-talk which can often drive up levels of anxiety. Have a journal and jot down during the day good things that have happened, no matter how small. What’s not to appreciate?
4. They put things in perspective. When things are going wrong and you’re in the thick of it, it’s often hard to take a wider perspective on things. But, improving your self-awareness helps you to recognize those overwhelmed moments and see opportunities to intercept the flow of negativity.
Tip: It might be a moment to ask yourself the following questions:- What judgements or assumptions am I making here? Do I know for sure that they are really true? If they may not be true, what else might be true? How would that change how I feel about this situation?
5. They look after their well-being. They are conscious of eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, getting out into nature, not over-dosing on caffeine and switching off their devices. Looking after the mind and body will ensure you have the physical and psychological ability to deal with whatever comes your way without burnout or breakdown.
Tip: Take a few 5 minute detox breaks during the day. Switch off email notifications, take the phone off the hook, take a small walk if you can, breathe deeply, and eat some fresh fruit. Put the breaks into your calendar, and take them!
Actively working on the above areas will help you develop a more Emotionally Intelligent approach to stress management, which will benefit your well-being, your work performance and ultimately your life.