The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral reactions.” Stress is part of daily life, as we know. Not all stress is bad and in fact, stress that induces the “fight or flight” response to a potentially dangerous situation is necessary for survival.
But chronic stress that results from an inability to eliminate or control an overwhelming or upsetting set of circumstances may precipitate serious health and behavioral complications, including hypertension, obesity, drug or alcohol abuse and depression.
Busy people, whether highly stressed or not, are wise to set aside special time several days each week to devote to self-care. The activities can take the form of cross-training—-kick-off Monday with a run, swim, bike ride, or power walk, Tuesday for yoga or tai chi, Wednesday weightlifting at the gym, Thursday at home for prayer or meditation and Friday can belong to boxing or ballet.
Exercise, meditation and prayer have been confirmed through scientific research to deliver more benefits than I can remember, but among them are improved energy/ stamina, improved self-esteem, lower blood pressure, improved joint mobility, enhanced mood, improved cardiac functioning and a decreased incidence of stress. In other words, everything we need in the physical, cognitive and psychological realms gets better when we move our body and nurture our soul.
Good nutrition supports one’s physical health. Maintaining a balanced diet enhances energy, stamina, cognitive functioning, the immune system response and helps the body defend itself against toxic stress. There will be times when deadlines or other intense situations might derail healthy eating habits and fried food bingeing rules.
Refuse to succumb to that temptation over the long- term. Get back on track ASAP and eat simply prepared fresh food, homemade or takeout, to feel, work and even sleep better. When faced with high-level physical, cognitive, or psychological demands, overdosing on sugar, salt and fat could leave one vulnerable to a crash of some sort, because unhealthy food does not adequately nourish.
Caffeine and alcohol are also not your friends when their intake surpasses a certain threshold. Listen to your body. A 20 ounce coffee or tea may get you going in the morning and a glass or two of wine, or a couple of cocktails, may help you to relax in the evening. Jittery feelings, heart palpitations and inebriation are warning signs and if they appear, dial back.
When starting or leading a business, there will be times when burning the midnight oil, if not burning the candle at both ends, will be the story of life. The opportunity and ability to sleep could easily be diminished. Yet it is advisable to guard against long-term sleep deprivation.
Arm yourself to take on difficult challenges by keeping your diet healthy and continuing with exercise and other forms of self-care (e.g., massage or energy work) that provide the stamina, cognitive functioning and decision-making ability that enable peak performance. Getting the work done makes it a lot easier to sleep and maintain a defense against the harmful effects of stress on the body and the psyche.
Medical and psychological researchers have published dozens, if not hundreds, of studies that document the relationship between inadequate sleep and stress. Sleep, like food and drink, is a biological need and we cannot survive without it (but the precise reason is unknown). The National Sleep Foundation has confirmed the long-held consensus that the average adult requires about eight hours of sleep/day. Teens may need 10 hours/ day. Some adults can perform well on just six hours/ day.
If sleep difficulties are the result of the stress related to getting things done, an executive coach may be able to identify ways to resolve workflow and time management issues that will make the to-do list more manageable, improve productivity and make falling asleep and sleeping through the night possible.
While you’re working on rectifying conditions that may be causing toxic amounts of stress, I recommend what I call The 90 Minute Rule, that pulls together a few NSF recommendations: 1) Evening workouts should conclude at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to relax. 2). Dinner should be consumed at least 90 minutes before bedtime, to allow the body to digest. 3). Take a bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime to promote the release of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep.
The struggle to get the work done is sometimes stress-producing, as noted in the preceding paragraphs. Learning to prioritize is integral to time management. An examination of projects and tasks that only the business founder/ leader is equipped to do is Step 1 of time management. The founder/ leader can then delegate other tasks to team members, if employees have been hired, or outsource to Freelancers or other business specialists, in the absence of staff.
Just say no
Saying no is occasionally necessary, even when it disappoints someone. Saying no may enable you to better manage time, energy, or other resources and become more productive.
Say no to enforce your boundaries. Say no to what you feel is unacceptable. Say no to honor your values, self-respect, or priorities. Say no to stress.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Kim Clark. Practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual philosophy with roots in China and derived from Buddhism, meditate on Boston Common.