Being Mindful of Stress Management

A full workload mixed with competing demands is a challenge many leaders are faced with.  The stress this can create may impact others through our reactions, body language and behaviours like working long hours, limited availability and lack of focus.  Unchecked, this may lead to an individual and team feeling of overwhelm, deflation and reduced morale – can’t seem to get ahead.

Unfortunately, in many organizations, this is the new normal due to financial pressures and the need to ‘do more with less’.  The demands may not go away but how we deal with the associated stress can improve.

Being more mindful is a critical component of reducing stress and feeling more balanced when in a state of overload.  Mindfulness at its root is focusing on one thing at a time.  Even though you may feel this is impossible to do, if you don’t make the conscious effort to take steps to reduce your stress, things are likely to compound and get worse.

Mindfulness gurus like Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat Zinn and Thich Nhat Hahn are capitalizing on stress by motivating people to stop, breathe, meditate and be present.  This is easier to achieve than you may think since being mindful is not ‘the pursuit of enlightenment’, but rather – in a work context – it is the pursuit of being in control of your work versus work controlling you, and impacting you and your team in negative ways.

Authors, Mark Williams and Danny Penman, provide great insights into the mind and how, if we can better control it, we can better manage stress.  The stress management strategies below are adapted in part by their recommendations.

  • Move your Body: We are the most sedentary population in history.  Lack of movement not only decays our body, it decays our mind.  Many of us go home and would rather watch other people in action while seated comfortably on our couch.Exercise not only reduces the build up of toxins in our body due to stress, it helps us to breathe and get oxygen flowing to our entire system.  All parts need to function well, and exercise is a great way to keep our body and mind in tune.
  • Stop Catastrophizing: Our mind likes to predict the future and solve problems. For many, it creates worst-case scenarios coupled with excessive analysis.  This is also known as ‘monkey mind’.  Regardless of the stress contributor, stop fighting the stress.  Accept our situation, say “I am feeling stressed!”, breathe, and stop analyzing.  Our mind and body will begin to relax and lighten up on pumping our veins with bad stuff.
  • Focus on breath: Close your eyes, put your hand on your abdomen, breathe in deeply and imagine your body filling up with air. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth and repeat ten times. Congratulations – you’ve just accomplished some mindful breathing!This gives your heart a breather and even two minutes of mindful breathing will give you a momentary sense of calm and peace.  Studies have shown that doing this regularly makes a lasting difference in how we process stress.
  • Meditate: Levitating off a mat in cross-legged position while donning your Lululemon gear and chanting a mantra is not necessary. Try turning off the TV 60 minutes before bed to calm your mind.  This also gives you time to sit and mediate which is as simple as sitting in a quiet space with your eyes closed while striving to feel your body sensations (don’t worry about trying to stop those pesky thoughts).  This activity not only leads to a more restful sleep, it may help you fall asleep quicker.
  • Be your friend: Too often our inner critic takes over and focuses on the negative aspects of our work life versus what we should be grateful for. Take the time to be compassionate and kind to yourself despite the stress – what are you doing well?  Congratulate yourself for doing your best and acknowledge the care, commitment and other positive behaviours you role-model.  We matter and quite often, we overlook ourselves!

Work will always be there. Taking care of you is a critical pre-requisite to continuing to do a great job, as well as not becoming a victim to the serious damages ongoing stress can cause.

Kwela’s Time Management, Stress Management and Leading Self & Emotional Intelligence workshops are designed to identify behaviours and ways to optimize the many elements that contribute to stress and how we can increase the control we have in what often may feel like an out-of-control world.

Glen Sollors, Partner