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How Leaders Can Stress Less For Greater Success

The business world is burning out. According to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace Report, 43% of respondents say they feel stressed at work on a daily basis. That’s up from 38% in 2019.

While some stress is inevitable, burnout is not. And as leaders, it’s our responsibility to support our team members in reducing their stress and achieving a healthy life balance. Since great leaders lead by example, we must also do the same for ourselves.

One authority on reducing burnout through balance is globally recognized performance psychologist and energy management authority Dr. Jim Loehr. He is also the Human Performance Institute co-founder and a New York Times bestselling author of books like Leading with Character and The Power of Full Engagement.

Dr. Loehr uses his 30 years of expertise to guide everyone from Olympic athletes to top corporate executives in finding success by better understanding stress—and then working it into an incredible advantage.

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The Positive Side of Stress

Stress usually comes with a negative connotation. Many talk dreamily about someday living a stress-free existence. But maybe we’re looking at it all the wrong way.

According to Dr. Loehr, feeling stressed out is the key to not just success, but survival. And as leaders with teams—or even entire companies—relying on us, we can reframe, accept, and embrace stress and how it can serve us positively.

“Stress exposure is not the bad guy,” he says. “The hormones of stress are the hormones of life. If I take the stress out of your life, you will go away. You cannot survive.” He points to seniors that join retirement communities to end stress forever. “They removed all stress in their life, and then deteriorate very quickly. Be careful what you wish for.”

Dr. Loehr sees stress as the perfect practice for dealing with life’s realities. Without regular challenges, our bodies and minds can’t cope when we feel pushed beyond our limits. “If you look back on life, the things that pushed you the most have also helped you the most,” he says.

He’s not saying to invite additional stress into your life. Instead, change how you view it. Not as a purely bad thing, but as a practice for whatever storms lie ahead.

“In a way, storms are a gift,” says Dr. Loehr. “Don’t cuss the storm. Understand that they require adaptation and adjustments—a new worldview. If you get through it, you will be more prepared and confident with tomorrow’s storm.”

Still, if your limits get exceeded too much or too often, stress can snowball into what nobody should strive for—burnout. That’s why it’s important for leaders to learn how to properly handle stress.

Balancing Healthy Stress as a Leader

Stress happens. Maybe you’re in the group of 43% that feels it every day. Or perhaps you only get those emotions occasionally. Either way, it’s critical that leaders effectively prepare for and come out of stressful moments in positive ways.

“We don’t need leaders when everything is going well,” says Dr. Loehr. “We need them when the storm descends. We need leaders to stand up and say ‘Listen, there is a way we can get through this.’”

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How Routine Can Prepare You for Stress

To prepare for stress, Dr. Loehr encourages leaders to engage in healthy, positive routines and habits. The routines can be countless things like daily meditation, exercise, prayer, or a hobby—anything that provides structure and fulfillment.

Start by integrating even just one small habit into your life before a stressful event. Then, strictly maintain these practices during hard times. “Bodies love rhythm,” says Dr. Loehr. “Storms disrupt that rhythm.” Now when a storm hits, your body will always have some rhythm to confidently rely on.

Properly Recovering from a High-Stress Moment

Humans can’t keep up with never-ending stress. As the intensity wanes, you need to let yourself rest. Otherwise, you seriously risk burnout.

“Find ways to find recovery physically, emotionally, mentally, and—most importantly—spiritually,” says Dr. Loehr. “If you break, it won’t be the stress got you. The culprit was insufficient recovery.”

To recalibrate the system, leaders should balance the stress just experienced with an equivalent amount of recovery. “What is required is a restful state of healing, restoration, and renewal,” he says.

Of course, continue to maintain your healthy habits. But also engage in additional activities that truly allow you to decompress and bring your mind and soul back to a place of peace.

Find Good Moments During Trying Times

Often overlooked, it’s great to get guidance on dealing with stress before and after it happens. Still, the most challenging moments typically happen when we’re in the middle of the storm. How do leaders cope then?

First, Dr. Loehr wants us to follow a voice inside all of us that seeks out moments of calm during trying times. “Mentally, be sure that you’re constantly working on this inner voice within your head,” Dr. Loehr says. “This is your coach. Let it coach you through in positive ways.”

In the midst of immense pressure, it’s easy to push that voice aside to hyper-focus on rushing through the problem. Dr. Loehr calls this a burnout-inducing mistake. We need healthy recharge during the storm just as much as we need routine and recovery.

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Like routine and recovery, there are countless ways to give yourself a mental break. “Any positive emotions are healing,” Dr. Loehr says. He suggests watching a favorite movie with your family. If time is short, go on a short walk around the workplace while listening to uplifting music. Or turn off your office lights for five minutes of silent meditation. Anything that’ll center yourself while clearing the mind.

Dr. Loehr also encourages leaders to intentionally spend their time with optimistic people. During tough times, we need positive support more than ever. Surrounding ourselves with lifter-uppers fills us with the hope required to persevere and succeed through anything.

And as optimism is infectious, leaders can more easily maintain their own positive attitude while navigating personal and professional challenges. “Without optimism and hope, everything is gone,” says Dr. Loehr. “We must have optimism for the future or we can’t go forward.”

So, keep moving forward with balance, calm, and optimism. With these values, even the most stressful moments won’t stop you.

The conversation with Dr. Jim Loehr continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast. We talk about finding your true purpose, how to better balance your energy, his fascinating work at the Human Performance Institute, and more. Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.


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