The excitement, fear and yearning for change was palpable in the manager’s voice, as he detailed his ledger of dreams, goals, challenges and fears, during our coaching encounter.  He asked for coaching in order to embark on a transitional and transformational process, resulting in dream and goal attainment, and much needed stress reduction. He was a remarkable individual who was balancing the demands of being a project manager within a global company, wanting to move up, flex his talents and skills, and assume a senior leadership role within the company within a few years time. He was also a husband and father whose family was struggling with medical, financial and family-care issues related to a family member’s critical long-term illness. Daily stress was high, but dreams were still strong.

I said to him: “I hear the stress in your voice. I hear it as you describe the pressures you’re under and I hear it as you express the desires and yearning to move forward internally and externally (re: career). I know that you want to jump in and ‘go for it’ and that you really want quick change to occur, but you’re experiencing a great deal of stress” (e.g., inherent in his roles and responsibilities at home and at work, and self-imposed by his goals and dreams). I said, “every goal and dream is achievable but, you know, both desire and yearning trigger eustress (stress to energize; stress triggered by excitement and dreams of happiness) and eustress is still ‘stress’. As you move forward, in what sounds like a hot-pursuit of career advancement and simultaneous support for your families needs, you’re going to have to get your stress under control or else you’ll either develop compassion fatigue syndrome or you’ll experience burnout.” So, our conversation shifted briefly to stress management.

What is Eustress?

Eustress occurs when the body-mind-emotions are revved up by something that is positively anticipated or experienced (e.g., birthday celebrations, fits of laughter, etc.). The person feels absolutely exhilarated, excited, ecstatic, and even euphoric. During these periods of emotional ecstasy (i.e., when you receive an unexpected but valued gift or surprise, as you travel and anticipate a site then are literally awe-struck by something you see or hear, when a dream is strived for or achieved, etc.)  Eustress is triggered when neuroendricrine changes in the brain create pleasure stimuli. It feels great, but it still leaves you feeling fatigued, depleted and even exhausted.  Distress occurs when the body-mind-emotions are revved up by something that is not wanted, feared or that which causes anxiety within you. Distress revs up the body’s heart rate, releases enzymes into the brain that make our brains run on overdrive (e.g., fight-flight-freeze syndrome), and stirs heightened levels of emotions….all of which also result in heightened levels of fatigue…physical, mental, emotional.  So, whether you are engaged in anticipatory goal and dream achievement transformational periods or feared, anxiety-elevated transitional periods, the eustress and distress still culminate in stress.

Self-Care for Leaders

Leaders at all levels, in order to achieve their dreams, balance the needs of others, and manage the challenges, must engage in self-care along the way by taking steps and time to de-stress. If they choose not to, or falsely believe that they can’t, they run the risk of distress becoming progressively debilitating, and eustress becoming exhaustive. The body-mind-emotions need regularly schedule time to release tension, relax, and rejuvenate. If they are not given such time and activities on a regular basis throughout each week, then the body-mind-emotions go into reactive-mode, safety-mode, and catch up-mode, dramatically reducing one’s ability to move into the creative and critical thinking modes which are necessary for goal achievement and personal sustainability at work and in life.

It’s important to habitualize daily de-stressing techniques and behaviors. Some of the techniques and behaviors chosen should be ones that don’t add additional time to your already overloaded schedule. Remember to change what you do with the time that you have. Some of the techniques and initiatives should also be individual habits and actions not ones that you do with loved ones. I know that you love and care deeply for family and friends but remember, you’re taking control of your stress, not theirs. It’s also important that the menu you create and commit-to, include techniques and habits that rejuvenate the head (thoughts/beliefs/perspectivs), heart (emotions/feelings/attitudes) and hands (body/interactions/habits). I recommend choosing 1-2 methods/things/behaviors that you will commit to doing 2x (twice) daily for 15 minutes each time. Don’t overload yourself with stress-reduction activities each day or you’ll either become very self-centered or lapse into more stress because you’re just adding more things-to-do to your to-do list. Remember, when you decide upon stress-reduction routines it is important to build into your routine activities or behaviors that will rejuvenate your head (mind), heart (emotions/attitudes), and hands (habits/body). It is equally important to determine head-heart-hand activities that you may have to stop engaging in. Stopping certain thoughts, emotional triggers and behaviors may reduce just as much stress as when you begin new routines.

Here are some suggestions offered as brain-teasers in order to jump-start new ideas or re-commitments in your own mind

Head (thoughts/beliefs/perspectives):

  • Don’t take things personally
  • Always remain optimistic
  • Meditate/Contemplate
  • Stop blaming others
  • Stop judging self and others
  • Envision dreams & next steps
  • Make new choices
  • Accept consequences of decisions
  • Know what triggers you

Heart (emotions/attitudes):

  • Walk through your fears
  • Deal with your addictions
  • Play soft music in background
  • Speak kindly
  • Accept compliments & gifts
  • Engage in gratitude
  • Engage in acceptance
  • Build, fix or re-set relationships
  • Plan on 1 happiness each day

Hands (body/health, habits, actions/reactions):

  • Stair-climbing/Walking
  • Retreat from energy vampires
  • Substitute salad when eating
  • Turn off TV and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Laugh (a lot)
  • Be assertive but don’t argue
  • Stop talking and act
  • Team with others

Whatever you decide to do, make it a routine for 30-40 days. Then evaluate it, tweak it and begin again

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