Today, all leaders are feeling the effects of increased change, uncertainty, and risk. For some of us, that means higher levels of felt stress and anxiety (ahem…yup, that’s me!). Because of that, we may lose focus, become demotivated, get stuck, or act more temperamental with others — Wait, you mean it’s not normal to have an outburst about receiving the wrong ice cream in my latest grocery delivery?!
"When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your true power is.”
Here are 10 tips for reducing stress and anxiety:
1. Set Boundaries: With work and life becoming so blended these days, it’s easy to end up putting in longer hours than ever before. Ask yourself, “Where do I need better boundaries right now? In what ways might I need to set limits? What’s one small boundary I can establish?”
2. Start the Day Grounded: Instead of grabbing your smartphone and scrolling the latest news or social media updates (’cause these typically aren’t calming in the least!), consider trying a simple grounding ritual to get the day going on the right foot. This could involve breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, listening to your favorite tune, or setting a positive intention for the day.
3. Move Your Body: There’s tons of research out there about how getting physically active helps boost “happy hormones” and reduces stress. This could be as basic as a few stretches or a walk around the block. Or, crank up YouTube and search for a home workout of your chosen length and style – there’s something out there for every preference!
4. Stay in the Moment: Present-moment focus is a muscle you can strengthen with practice. Work on “catching” thoughts that are about the past or the future, especially “what ifs” and worries. Then, bring your attention back to what’s happening in the moment. You can also use breathing as a tool for centering your energy and calming your mind. [Hint, check out Navy SEAL “Box Breathing“]
5. Moderate Your Thinking: So much of how we feel and act is a result of our thoughts. Recognize unhelpful thinking styles when they show up, such as all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, or perfectionism. Then, create space between you and the unhelpful thoughts. Redirect your attention to a more balanced and moderate perspective. Through practice, you can actually rewire your brain to think about situations differently.
6. Lean on Others: Social connection and support is essential, even for those leaders we view as strong and independent. So make sure you’re proactively reaching out to friends and family, including some “high-vibe” people whose energy helps to shift or lift your own. And when you need help, don’t hesitate to ask work colleagues for support – it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of an effective leader.
7. Focus on What You Can Control: To reduce stress and anxiety, stay focused on your spheres of control and influence. These are the areas where you can actually create change and take action. Accept that you can’t conquer the big and complex problems, at least not by yourself and not immediately. Taking even small steps in an area you can directly impact will boost your sense of agency amidst uncertainty.
8. Increase Flexibility: Like other soft skills, flexibility can be learned. Start small by changing-up simple daily actions, such as taking an alternate path when walking the dog, eating something different for breakfast, or wearing an outfit outside your handful of favorites. Over time, this can translate to a greater overall ability to adapt to change.
9. Take the Next Right Step: Thinking about multiple responsibilities or tasks all at once can create overwhelm. Instead, focus on taking just the very next right step. This helps break overwhelming situations into smaller pieces that feel doable. And after you take one step, it’ll generate some initial momentum to help you keep going.
10. Boost Your Optimism: There are lots of ways to experiment with shifting from stress and anxiety to optimism. Here are a handful of my favorites: Look for the silver linings and the opportunities rather than the downsides or risks; Reflect on daily gratitudes; Celebrate small wins; Do something playful or goofy; View challenges as chances to learn and grow.
A final caveat: I’m a certified coach, not a trained counselor. These strategies are good starting points for leaders, but if you’re experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, you may want to consider working with a mental health counselor. Many leaders do, including yours truly!