Leadership Perspectives

Leaders under stress: Pay attention to lifestyle factors

April 30, 2012

Many leaders compound the stress inherent in leadership responsibilities with the additional stress experienced by our bodies and minds when we don’t care for ourselves properly.  I have learned that three lifestyle factors are essential for me to operate effectively.  Without them my ability to manage stress goes right out the window.

  1.  Proper nutrition:  Food is the fuel that makes our bodies run.  To fight stress we need a diet that is rich in whole grains, vitamins, and minerals, to lower high blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.  In addition, according to this WebMD slide show, certain foods, like oranges, tea, and almonds have specific stress-busting properties.
  2. Physical activity:  Exercise is a powerful anecdote to stress; it reduces muscle tension and increases brain oxygen.  Maybe most important, exercise increases endorphins, those little protein molecules that are responsible for a whole host of good things including mitigation of stress (and slowing down the aging process, if you are interested).
  3. Adequate rest:  Sleep doesn’t always come easily when the workload is heavy.  A colleague of mine refers to ‘working horizontally.’  She’s not  referring to the oldest profession in the world, but rather her propensity to lay in bed with all of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s problems swirling around in her head. But here’s the beauty of what I’ve learned.  If I am eating right and getting my exercise, sleep comes more easily.  In fact, all three of these stress fighting behaviors work better in tandem.  (Who feels like exercising with no sleep and a lousy diet anyway?)

A certain amount of stress in inevitable in leadership.  Taking proper care of ourselves can help us cope with much more grace and resilience.

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