A leader’s stress can have a ripple effect across the entire business, for better or for worse. A highly stressed leader can often cause teams to experience more stress, which in turn impacts employee productivity and engagement. On a personal level, it’s quite hard to operate at your best when you’re stressed. Stress impacts your ability to disconnect from work and be able to relax and enjoy your time off. On the flip side, when you’re able to keep your stress levels in check, you’ll see positive results throughout the whole organization.
While some stress is unavoidable, there are ways to reduce its overall impact. I spoke with Dr. Mohammed Enayat, a physician, health futurist, and founder of Hum2n, to learn more about what causes stress as well as how to overcome it.
Types of stress.
Dr. Enayat explains that there are two types of stress, emotional and biological. “There’s stress that we recognize which is emotional, like feeling anxious or angry, but then we also have stress that we don’t recognize on a biological level. It’s our biology that’s stressed, but it’s not manifesting in emotional stress,” he says. That can be from things that our bodies find unnatural, such as toxins found in our food and the environment, lights that disrupt our normal circadian rhythm, or overstimulation from technology. All of these things prompt a biological stress response, and what happens when we overuse that response is that we deplete ourselves of energy. The emotional response comes as a result of this.
Stress also causes issues with sleep, both in quantity and quality. Dr. Enayat explains that when you’re stressed, you don’t get into deeper regenerative sleep. Without deep sleep, your body and brain aren’t able to recover fully each day, which manifests as more stress and decreased mental health. For women, stress can have an even larger negative impact, disrupting cycles and causing hormonal imbalances.
With the right tools, you can manage both emotional and biological stress. Here’s how:
Identify your stress triggers.
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You can’t reduce your stress if you don’t know what your stress triggers are. It’s important to understand the causes of your stress and take the appropriate steps to rectify things. While eliminating all sources of stress isn’t possible, taking care of what you can control has a huge impact.
The goal is to get less caught up in a stress response and become more in control of it. What you want to do is learn how to stop yourself from getting into a stressed state or understand what you can do to improve and get out of it. This helps you become more resilient in the face of stress and allows you to stay more in control when stress tries to take over. “You’re increasing your resilience to decrease the stress response,” explains Dr. Enayat.
Take a holistic approach to reducing stress.
There’s no magic pill to get rid of stress, but supporting your body with the vitamins and nutrients it’s missing can definitely help. The key is to find the right balance of supplements for your individual needs. “Everyone is unique, with different nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. That means that to get to optimal health, we need to prescribe slightly different supplements for each person,” explains Dr. Enayat. Rather than blindly taking a multivitamin or herbal mixture, use testing to find out what it is that your body specifically is lacking and needs more of. This more holistic approach is designed to target the areas where you need the most support. It’s also important to note that vitamins and herbal supplements alone won’t cure your stress, and that you’ll see much better and faster results when combining them with improved nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness.
Incorporate movement into your day.
Spending too much time sitting can have quite a negative impact on stress levels and mental health. We simply weren’t meant to be sedentary for so much of the day. While spending hours in front of a computer is probably unavoidable most days, you can counteract the impact of that extended screen time with movement.
The more often you can incorporate movement throughout your day, the better. Every hour or two, stand up and move around. You can walk circles around your office, do a quick yoga sequence, dance, or anything that gets you up and away from your screen. Even just a few minutes of movement can help boost your mood in the moment and has long term benefits as well.
To incorporate more movement, consider how you structure your day. Could you get in a brief walk, run, or workout before or after work? Or instead of a sad desk lunch, take an extended lunch break and give yourself time to take a walk. Even better would be to find a way to move more than once per day. For example, you could exercise in the morning to boost your energy and wind down in the evening with a relaxing walk around your neighborhood or at a local park.
Surround yourself with nature.
Nature is a powerful antidote to stress, and you can reap the benefits from even the smallest amount of it. Position your desk so that you’re able to look out the window if there are trees visible. Add a few plants to your desk and/or office so you always have nature to look at. If you don’t have a green thumb, no worries. Studies have even shown that looking at pictures of plants can lower stress levels, plus you can get some very realistic looking faux plants now too.
Practice mindfulness daily.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, from meditation and yoga to breathwork and intentional relaxation. The key to a successful mindfulness practice is finding something that feels natural for you. Everything you do should promote a state of calm, so experiment until you find what works for you. If you find yourself getting stressed trying to be mindful, it’s clearly not going to be beneficial. Never force yourself to do something just because it’s supposed to be helpful if it doesn’t actually help you relax. For example, if you find meditation to be frustrating because you have trouble calming your mind and being still, try walking meditation instead.
Disconnect from technology.
We’re constantly bombarded with notifications, social media, and breaking news, and that never ending barrage of information can lead to stress. “It’s a scourge of our times how much we’re hyper-stimulated through our phones and emails and social media. We’re seeing more adrenal dysfunction, which is basically the fatiguing of your adrenal glands because they work too hard, become common now,” laments Dr. Enayat. Give yourself a break from your phone, tablet, and computer every single day. Go phone free for a minimum of half an hour every morning or evening. Mute your work notifications outside of working hours. Be fully present while watching your favorite TV show rather than watching while also scrolling through your phone.