As leaders, business owners or entrepreneurs, we thrive on meeting challenges by being strategic, decisive, focused, and fearless.
But after a year of COVID chaos, many of us are just plain tired. When you feel you can’t make another decision, or you’re unsure how to reassure and inspire employees in an upcoming meeting, it’s important to treat yourself with the same understanding and support you would give any other member of your team.
Here are six insights on healthy stress management and resilient leadership.
1. Manage Yourself, Too
In a June 2020 online article published by the MITSloan Management Review titled New Leadership Challenges for the Virtual World of Work, authors Alec Levenson and Patrick McLaughlin wrote: “Echoing the preflight safety guidance to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, the first key steps that are foundational to successfully working remotely involve taking care of yourself.”
To do this, they recommend maintaining a regular schedule (for example, getting up at a consistent time); building in time for important activities like exercise; and taking well-being breaks throughout the day.
The American Psychological Association suggests that, “when it feels impossible to manage every response or action during a crisis, leaders can focus more on controlling their day and routine.
Leaders can block time to check in with individuals who may need extra care or attention, such as struggling employees or family and friends. Equally important is scheduling breaks for self-care and attending to personal and family needs."
2. Well-being Is An Investment
As executive coach, educator and consultant Palena Neale writes in the Harvard Business Review article “Serious” Leaders Need Self-Care, Too, “the research is clear that diet, exercise, sleep and emotional regulation promote health and well-being.”
She describes how each of these strategies is “an investment that can increase [a leader’s] overall productivity and effectiveness … Specifically, a healthy diet has been linked to better moods, higher energy levels, and lower levels of depression. Aerobic exercise increases blood flow, boosting both learning and memory. Getting good sleep has been linked to increased focus, improved cognitive function (including creativity and innovation), greater capacity for learning, and improved empathy.”
3. Short = Powerful
If you think you don’t have time for breaks, Neale writes that “short diversions can provide a powerful boost.” She suggests taking five minutes to meditate, or experimenting with “online mindfulness meditation to improve emotional regulation, journaling to promote self-awareness, creative writing to increase well-being and creativity, reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken with in a while to increase your social connectedness, a gratitude exercise or an act of kindness to promote positivity, or a walk around the block to get your blood flowing.”
4. Remember You’re Human
“We can’t solve everyone’s issues all at once and that’s okay. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t have the answer,’” writes Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director of the National League of Cities, in an online article called Taking Care of Yourself: Self-care Strategies for Effective Leadership During COVID-19.
“As leaders, we are expected to be strong and carry on. To be strong, it starts with ourselves. So, my advice is to be self-aware and find a way each day for a short break … Do ONE thing today that gives you peace, gives you rest, and see how you feel. This is learned behavior and you can learn how to put yourself first. Being able to be vulnerable and say you’re tired, need a break, or are struggling is important. Putting on that cape we constantly put on doesn’t allow us to create boundaries. Find some time to be selfish. If you’re not healthy, even mentally healthy, you will not be the leader that you could be.”
5. Watch For The Signs
Effective leaders recognize the physical warning signs when their stress levels are high. The American Psychological Association notes that “everyone has different physical reactions to stress, such as stiff muscles, a headache, teeth grinding, and stomachaches. Pay attention to the physical symptoms to recognize stress. The physical signs are reminders to take time out for self-care.”
6. Learn From, And Share With, Other Leaders
BOOM President and CEO Laureen Regan says she always feels better after connecting with other leaders.
“We share a similar focus on taking care of our teams and helping move the business forward.” she says.
Regan seeks out peer-to-peer events and opportunities through organizations like the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources of Alberta (CPHR AB) as a way of learning more about leading through unprecedented times.
“Talking with other business leaders gives us a chance to share challenges we’re having and to hear what others are facing,” she says. “Learning how others are moving through challenges can give us all ideas and inspiration for how we can move through challenges, too.”
Here are more resources for becoming a resilient leader:
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