If I asked you to join me in running a marathon in 6 months time, would you wing it, opting not to train? Or would you commit and prepare, getting to know your body, it’s boundaries, your optimal speed and building your stamina and strength?
Unless you’re some radio jock on a dare, I’d guess the latter.
Now if I asked you whether you had a prepared strategy and regime to assist you during your next huge stress-hurricane, what would your response be? You’d probably wing it, right?
My life is filled with such episodes. This is the life I chose, and I consider stress quite a natural fuel-provoking part of my average corporate week.
For over twenty years I was asked to lead a team of over achievers in to the eye of raging storms, to navigate through dark times, to weather the horrendous effects of impossible deadlines, extreme expectations and demanding sponsors. And looking back I can thankfully say that my teams survived unscathed, achieving the impossible and miraculously engineering outrageous outcomes.
Me however? I always felt that it was my job as the leader to take the brunt of the hurricane’s force. I whirled around the outside, protecting my team within the eye of the storm, and much like the adrenalin rush that tornado-chasers feel, I managed to remain engaged, excited and motivated to win at all costs.
I had no plan.
I had no strategy of how I would protect myself. But I had an enormous strategy surrounding the protection of every other member of my team. Such is the world of great management.
And thus it didn’t surprise me the first time I crashed in to full and paralyzing burnout. Nor the second time, or the third.
As managers, leaders, business owners, mentors and teachers, the biggest failing I see amongst this realm is that we neglect to plan or strategize our own path.
We know our job comes with immense pressure, with times of torrential stress, and yet we sail in with our spinnakers up and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude.
It’s essential we have a plan in place to protect ourselves from the fall-out that can appear years after the rush has past.
Here are a few key ways to formulate that plan.
- Know Yourself.
My radar for inner stress these days is of a ‘professional’ level! I’ve become very proficient at recognizing the signs, which now allows me to navigate quickly away from danger.
My sleep begins to suffer.
I feel agitated towards my children, which is my biggest alarm bell as it goes against the loving rules of my family that I, myself, helped to create.
And I move and speak faster than usual.
These are the first signs for me. What are yours?
- Create a plan
Just as with the marathon, it’s essential to prepare for those moments of stress.
For instance, the moment I recognize my warning signs, I review my eating & caffeine habits, I revert back to careful sleep patterns, I increase my mindful moments, and I consciously smile often and slow my walk, breath and speech.
My diet regains the essential minerals and nutrients for optimal brain health;
My sleep ensures my Serotonin levels remain balanced
In being mindful, I enhance resilience-promoting neurochemicals to be released, such as Oxytocin and Dopamine;
And in slowing my walk, breath and speech I communicate to my brain that all is in fact fine which allows the Parasympathetic Nervous System to take control, dampening the stress response.
- Act Immediately.
What good is a plan if you don’t act upon it? And yet, this is the hardest part of any strategy – knowing when to activate it.
A good idea for many is to share your stress signals and plan with a loved one, asking them to be your accountability partner. Their job is to tell you if they see any of the signs, and to support you in activating your anti-stress-strategy.
Remember, it’s a fool who goes in to battle unprepared.
Know yourself, know your plan and know when to activate it; and be the leader who navigates through with impressive stories to tell at the end.