We live in a time when it seems like we're regularly put into situations that cause us stress. Sometimes we feel a little stress for a short time and sometimes we feel a lot of stress for a long time. The fact is that when we feel stress, especially for extended periods of time, not only does our productivity drop, but the quality of our work drops as well. Let's start with a discussion of how stress affects our work and our leadership. You've probably thought of a couple of consequences of stress already, but I've identified five areas of significant negative impact from stress. When you suffer from continued stress, you will see a marked drop in:
Health – As stress settles into our lives, it begins to take a physical toll on our bodies and our health. High levels of stress can cause heart problems, weight gain, headaches, and sleeplessness. It often affects the balance in our life. By focusing strictly on our work or our challenging situation, and neglecting our health, indeed the Universe will swing the pendulum the other way for us. In other words, we'll become unhealthy and essentially being forced to care for ourselves (and sometimes have to neglect / abandon our work). Talk about a drop in productivity and a shift in time management!
Energy – Stress in an energy drain. If you've ever been or previously are under a lot of stress, you know how it just saps the energy right out of you. Your ambition drops, your stamina Declines, and your focus is not anywhere to be found.
Patience – We all know that when we are feeling stressed, our patience can go right out the window. Since leadership is a matter of effectively relating to others, our leadership competencies often get "high-jacked" whenever we feel stress / pressure. Since much of a leader's productivity is a result of the effort of others, productivity and long-term leadership effectiveness can suffer greatly when we experience long periods of high stress.
Creativity – The creative process takes place in the neo-cortex of the brain, while emotions (like stress) are processed in the Amygdala. Here's the challenge we face: When our brain is focused in the Amygdala, it essentially blocks out our ability to properly tap into our creative processes. It's like when we hear someone who's stressed say, "I'm so angry I can not think straight!" High stress blocks the creative process and hampers logical thinking.
Productivity – Our productivity drops significantly when we're under stress. We do not think clearly, we get overly tired early in the day, our self-discipline drops, and we are not able to concentrate.
So what can we do about all this?
In my workshops, I'll ask participants for examples of stress-causing situations or events. They're always eager to offer real-life examples of stressful events. (Some examples may have already popped into your head as you read this.) But the reality is that there are no stressful situations! It's how we react to events and circumstances that cause us stress. I guarantee that I can find someone who will not be stressed out by a situation that causes you to feel stress. This is an important point …
Working to effectively minimize or even eliminate stress will have a significant impact not only on your health, but on your creativity, energy levels, people skills and relationships. The most productive people I know have learned to deal with events in their lives in such a way as not to feel much stress. It's not that they are indignant, thick-skinned, or robots. Instead, they've developed "rituals" to deal with situations that might cause others to feel stress. They carefully guard their attitude and their energy levels, along with having a clear sense of priorities.
If you want to be at the top of your game, spend the time to determine which "rituals" help you to alleviate stressful feelings and be committed to taking care of yourself. I have a Zen Buddhist saying on the wall of my office which says, "Live half for yourself, and half for others." It's a good philosophy to live by.