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Home Blog Managing Stress as a Leader

Managing Stress as a Leader

July 13, 2023

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

7 mins read

From teams of employees to company budgets and finances, business and organizational leaders excel at managing a great number of things. When it comes to managing stress as a leader, however, many lack the focus and resources to do so effectively.  

Stress Management and Leadership

There is a strong correlation between quality of leadership and stress in the workplace. This holds true for the general stress level of all team members, including the leaders who are primarily responsible for fostering the workplace culture. In other words, managing leadership stress is extremely important because any stress that impacts those at the top of the organizational hierarchy will likely trickle down to middle managers and the employees under their supervision.  

12 Areas to Promote Healthy Stress Management

Elevated stress levels lead to discontent and inefficiency, both in the professional and the private arenas. Given just how critical stress management is for boosting productivity and promoting overall health and wellness, wise leaders will undoubtedly want to prioritize it. Read on for more information about how you can control your own stress and stop it from affecting others.

1. Boundary Setting

Setting appropriate boundaries can aid in stress management in several ways. As a leader, many people ask things of you on a daily basis. Therefore, learning when to say “no” is an invaluable skill and one that you should exercise regularly. If you are the type of boss who is overly concerned with being the “good guy,” the temptation to say “yes” to every request can be strong. However, for your own benefit as well as the benefit of the company, it is prudent to set healthy and productive boundaries. Whenever possible, leaders should establish firm expectations in advance, writing them out so all team members have a permanent record of those expectations for easy reference and full accountability.  

2. Physical Representations of Stress

It is widespread medical knowledge that chronic stress can have a disastrous effect on physical and mental health. In fact, an elevated level of stress can have a direct negative impact on key health indicators such as blood pressure and sleep patterns. It can compromise your immune system and leave you vulnerable to all types of diseases and infections. Specific health concerns commonly associated with stress include muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, skin conditions, and sexual dysfunction.  

3. It's Okay to Ask for Help

While people from all walks of life are often reluctant to ask for help, this relatively straightforward act can be especially difficult for leaders who are generally more comfortable giving help rather than accepting it. Far too many leaders regard accepting help as an indicator of weakness, and they certainly don’t want others to see it. However, it is a universal truth that everyone needs help sometimes, and leaders are not exempt from that reality. To be truly effective, leaders require various types and amounts of support and assistance from partners, colleagues, and employees at all levels of the workplace hierarchy. And, of course, nobody suffering undue stress should hesitate to get the help that they need from a therapist, physiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health professional.  

4. Learning to Delegate

One way to get the support and help you need from your workplace team is by learning to delegate important tasks to others. Most leaders have broad expertise and feel quite protective of the organizations under their administration. Unfortunately, this combination of otherwise admirable qualities can make it quite difficult to relinquish control to team members, even those who are perfectly qualified to perform the task. To effectively manage stress, leaders must learn to prioritize the big stuff and give the small stuff to others. In the words of leadership authority John C. Maxwell, "If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate." Addressing quality assurance, Maxwell recommends delegating any task to a team member if they can complete it at least 80 percent as well as you can.  

5. Mental Health Priorities

While dedicated leaders tend to put the organizations that they lead before their own wants and needs, this is not always the best way to achieve success and happiness. Leaders must learn to prioritize their own mental health and devote a proper amount of their time and energy to self-care. This might mean scheduling routine times to relax or simply turning off your cell phone while having dinner with the family. Although the rallying cry for "work-life-balance" has become something of a cliche, striking this balance is essential if you want to manage your stress and cultivate a healthy working environment.

6. Healthy Diet Development

The relationship between nutrition and stress levels is well established in the scientific community, and a wealth of research has singled out specific foods, such as those high in protein and vitamin B, as beneficial in the fight against stress. Perhaps more importantly, certain foods, including many that are pretty easy to grab over the course of a busy workday, can cause your stress levels to skyrocket. Some of the most stress-inducing food categories include sugar and caffeine.

7. Exercise and Movement

Diet and exercise are a well-known “one-two punch,” for addressing a wide range of health and wellness concerns, and the fight against stress is no different. The long-established link between exercise and stress should be of particular interest to organizational leaders, who not only experience stress at elevated rates but tend to sit for hours at their desks. Even when a trip to the gym isn’t possible, you shouldn’t overlook the value of simply getting up for a quick stretch or a short walk around the office.

8. Practicing Mindful Techniques

Countless people have praised the stress-relieving benefits of mixing physical activity with meditative elements in the vein of ancient traditional practices, such as yoga and tai-chi. Whether you want to remain active or embrace stillness and silence, countless meditation and mindfulness techniques have been proven to lower stress levels in those who practice them.

9. Knowing Your Stressors

Public speaking might cause your nerves to spike or maybe you’re the type of person who just can’t help but stress out about looming deadlines. Everybody has different stressors, and knowing your triggers can go an incredibly long way toward effectively managing your stress. You might not be able to avoid your stressors entirely, but you can learn to control them once you’ve identified them.  

10. Proper Communication of Your Stress

Even if you know exactly what is stressing you out, you will be unlikely to get the help you need to deal with that stress if you fail to communicate it properly. From reaching out for support from a qualified therapist to delegating appropriate tasks and establishing healthy boundaries with workplace team members, the ability to articulate your needs is critical. Of course, the first step to clearly and effectively communicating your stress is having the courage to admit that it presents a real problem.  

11. Don't Seek Perfection

The phrases “born leader” and “perfectionist” are often used together. While this constant pursuit of perfection is laudable in many respects, it can be disastrous when it comes to managing stress. As a leader, you should ensure that your standards and expectations are realistic and reachable. While you should certainly strive to meet any objective you set, you must not allow the dogged pursuit of perfection to get in the way of a job well done. This will not only undermine your efforts professionally, but will cause unnecessarily high levels of stress for you as well. 

12. Breaks and Overworking

It might sound overly simplistic, but taking frequent restful breaks is an incredibly important component of stress management and is one that is equally as important for leaders. Beyond scheduling regular vacations and taking the occasional “mental health day,” you should prioritize taking short breaks throughout the average workday. You can use your break time to meditate, exercise, read, or simply enjoy a cup of herbal tea. You will be surprised by what it does for your stress levels and overall well-being. 

Take the Next Step with Lindenwood Online!

The Master of Arts in Leadership and Master of Arts in Human Resource Management programs at Lindenwood University Online can give you the knowledge and skill you need to lead with confidence and sensitivity while keeping your cool under pressure. Request information to learn more about these programs and what they can do for your professional future. 

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