Periods of excessive stress can have consequences as severe as heart disease. Not just individual well-being and happiness suffer when mental health suffers. The well-documented business impact of a stressed-out workforce is significant. In a recent global study of 14,800 knowledge workers, 49% of leaders and 42% of non-managers struggled with anxiety. Research by Gallup suggests that employees reporting poor mental health are less productive and five times more likely to miss work than those reporting good mental health. Being able to de-stress unlocks improved performance, joy, and health. So what are you to do? There is a lot of discussion and evidence on the broad benefits of exercise, mindfulness, and gratitude. These are key, but here are three surefire ways to de-stress your work (and life).
De-Stressing #1: Identifying Your Stressors
It's hard to address what is not understood. There is a long and rich history of research into factors with the potential to create stress for leaders. Here is a list of ten everyday workplace stressors:
Organizational Culture Misalignment
Work-Life Boundary Mismanagement
We each experience the workplace from unique perspectives shaped by our past experiences, current reality, and personality. We also measure stress intensity differently. The common challenge is during periods of excessive stress. At these times, it can be difficult to identify the primary driver of your stress, and leadership assessments can be a valuable tool for revealing your stressors.
De-Stressing #2: Enhancing Self-Awareness
Although counterintuitive, after identifying the source of the stress, the next best step you can take to de-stressing your work and life is enhancing self-awareness. When you focus on others and concerns outside your influence, it keeps you from gaining traction. You can make the most progress by working in areas where you already have influence.
The last thing a leader needs in today's demanding workplace is someone or something telling them what they already know. The better the quality of the feedback you receive, the better the decisions you can make. Evidence suggests that executive coaching combined with assessments provides deep insights into areas that, with attention, lead to enhanced potential.
Evidence also suggests that leaders lacking self-awareness are more likely not to be able to regulate their emotions and behaviors effectively. This contributes to poor physical health, work performance, and social interactions.
The importance of self-awareness is not new. However, a recent study of 486 companies demonstrated that the most self-aware leaders populate the best organizations. Poor-performing businesses had 20 percent more leaders with blind spots than high-performing businesses.
The medical model can be a helpful analogy for understanding why leaders benefit from assessments to enhance self-awareness. Consider your last visit to the doctor. You weren't going to the doctor to be told what you already knew, but you needed answers or help with something you couldn't answer alone. You were likely going to the doctor as a reaction to something not being right or proactively to uncover something before it became a problem (or possibly because someone you care about told you to go). At the doctor's visit, the assessments likely started with subjective questions, then progressed to more objective measures to pinpoint where additional review or attention might be helpful. Potentially, the doctor then ordered the use of advanced targeted assessments that required a specialist's technical interpretation.
De-Stressing #3: Building New Habits
In my new book, Life-Changing Leadership Habits, I provide ten proven principles to help leaders get more out of life and work. When making changes, it's critical to pick a replacement habit to start and not only focus on what you will stop doing. Even if you identify several practices you want to change, you will see the most growth by taking it one step at a time rather than attempting to change multiple habits simultaneously.
A common myth is that it takes 21 days to build a habit. The number of times you have to perform a life-changing habit before it becomes a habit can vary substantially by the person and the situation. One study concluded that typically it ranges from 18-254 days. The key is repetition, and eventually, it will become a habit.
Most of us have experienced trying to break a bad habit or create a good one before, only to keep doing what we don't want. Viewing the process of breaking habits with a pass-or-fail mental model sets you up for frustration. Building new habits is a learning process that needs to be considered, as the only failure is giving up.
"If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." African Proverb
If you are struggling with making changes, it is helpful to answer why you are trying to change in the first place and find an accountability partner. The confidence and growth from a creative thought partnership can't be beaten. Now more than ever, executive coaches are a crucial relationship for busy leaders.
What is the real de-stressing challenge you face?
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APA. (2012). APA survey finds feeling valued at work linked to well-being and performance.
Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. (2016). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States [PDF]. Management Science. Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. (2016). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States [PDF]. Management Science.
Hardesty, L. (2023). Tips to keep stress from hurting your heart. Mayo Clinic Health System.
Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, Cornelia H., Potts, H., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.
Wigert, B., & Pendell, R. (2023). 6 Trends Leaders Need to Navigate This Year. Gallup Workplace.
Williams, N. (2016). Top ten types of workplace stress. Bartell and Bartell.