Being a CEO can be a fulfilling-yet demanding-role. Here are 12 stress-busters that promote self-care.
Some stress is a healthy, normal part of life, especially if you are a CEO at a healthcare organization.
“However, chronic stress is linked to a myriad of diseases and negatively affects every system of the body,” says Stevyn Guinnip MSEd, corporate kinesiologist, Furniture For Life, a Boulder, Colorado-based maker and distributor of health and wellness furnishings.
Alexis Guy Brandon, MMS, PA-C, senior staff physician assistant for Grand Rounds, a company that provides medical expertise and personalized navigation, agrees. “The work that healthcare executives do every day is so important to the communities they serve,” Brandon says. “But to do it effectively, it is important that you are also prioritizing self-care.”
Here are 12 stress-busters that can help you relax and unwind.
“Everyone knows the body and brain require a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, but most people struggle to prioritize it as such,” says Heidi Hanna, PhD, chief energy officer at Synergy Brain Fitness, a training company based in San Diego, and director of education at the American Institute of Stress. “We are in the midst of a sleep epidemic, not because we don’t know what we should be doing but because our busy brains are so overloaded throughout the day that we are unable to wind down.”
Hanna emphasizes that what you do during the day impacts sleep. “Build in three to five minutes every hour to rest your mind by focusing on breathing, moving, or playing,” Hanna says. Then before bed use relaxation techniques like meditation or a warm bath, she adds.
“While taking a vacation is the ultimate stress reducer, planning one can also be a great stress-buster,” says Lindsay Resnick, executive vice president of Wunderman Thompson Health. “The distraction from day-to-day pressures combined with the mental ‘vacation’ you get from exploring options-where to stay, what to see, what to do, etc. can be cathartic. Next stop, Iceland at end of June...and it’s all planned out!”
“Studies show that a minimum of 30 minutes each day is required to lift low energy states like fatigue and depression,” Hanna says, “and a minimum of 45 minutes is needed to lower overactive states like ADD and anxiety.”
It’s also important to demonstrate to your colleagues that they too should make it a priority, says Brandon. “This can come in the form of converting some meetings into ‘walking meetings,’ bringing yoga to the office, having a ‘meditation break,’ or creating team bonding opportunities via making healthy lunch fun with a ‘salad party’ or participating in an afternoon plank challenge; these subtle changes in your day-to-day can help you put your best foot forward,” she says.
According to the Mayo Clinic, massage can be an effective treatment for reducing stress, pain, and muscle tension. “Considering how many executives sit at their desks for long hours, suffering from neck and back pain, a massage may be just what they need to feel better, think clearer, and be more productive,” says Guinnip. “Zero gravity massage chairs put the feet higher than the heart to instantly relax the nervous system and the massage and compression of the chair releases serotonin while helping the body drain the lymph system and oxygenate cells. The true benefits of massage are best realized with regular use and having an in-home or office massage chair has proven to be an essential item in every executives’ routine to help them perform at the top of their game.”
According to Hanna, studies show that feeling isolated is worse for your health than smoking cigarettes-“which is not a pro-smoking pitch by any means,” she says. “Being part of a tribe strengthens our ability to cope with demands on our energy, especially when times are tough. Social support is life support, and no matter how busy we may be, it’s important to invest in meaningful relationships. Just keep in mind that when it comes to connection, quality is more important than quantity, so don’t spread yourself too thin trying to keep up with all of your social media networks.”
“When it comes to stress, the most important thing to understand is that our body and mind are connected,” says Kristin M. Jordal, vice president, health engagement, Cigna. “With all of life’s responsibilities, we often neglect our personal health. I make a point of putting my health and well-being at the forefront by:
It turns out that laughter really is the best medicine. Research shows that finding something funny, whether you laugh out loud or not, helps to reduce stress hormones and inflammation in the brain and body, while improving immune function, memory, and more. “With all this evidence, it’s a great idea to plan some strategic humor interventions throughout the day, like watching a funny YouTube video, creating a funny folder of images that make you laugh, and having a humor buddy who you share funny things with throughout the day,” Hanna says.
“We all experience stress and keeping it bottled up doesn’t help anyone,” says Leslie Snavely, chief digital officer, CHG Healthcare, a national healthcare staffing company headquartered in Salt Lake City. “Find someone you can talk to, whether that’s your leader, a peer, or a counselor. I have a mentor I talk to when I need someone to bounce ideas off of or talk through a problem or stressor. It’s been a lifesaver to have people I can turn to for an outside perspective.”
“Positive psychologists have shown that one of the most significant ways to boost happiness is to do something nice for someone else, or share words of appreciation or gratitude,” Hanna says. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the brain and body benefit from giving through a decrease in blood pressure, increased self-esteem, elevated mood, lower levels of stress, longevity, and happiness.
“When we feel overwhelmed by stress, one of the quickest ways to mobilize stress hormones to take action is to focus on ways to serve others,” she says. “This shift in mindset and perspective leads those who volunteer for causes they care about to suggest that they get much more than they give.”
Opportunities to serve in your community can be found here.
Executives stress the importance of work/life balance to their teams, but sometimes forget to follow their own advice, according to Tyler Black, president, Global Medical Staffing, an international physician staffing company located in Draper, Utah. “Taking time for yourself is important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so make it a priority to leave work on time, use your vacation time, avoid emailing after work hours, and make time to have some fun at work. Plus, by embracing work/life balance yourself, you’re also showing your team that it’s important they do the same.”
“By far, the greatest stress reduction advice I can offer is to develop your spiritual muscle by spending time thinking about your meaning and purpose in life,” Hanna says. “Initially the questions around faith and trust can be stressful because there is so much debate and discourse around religion these days, but studies are quite clear that those who believe in something greater than themselves have a much more resilient brain. And this doesn’t mean you need to believe in anything in particular but having belief and trusting the process is the best way to let go of the stress and tension that results from realizing we are not in control. Whatever you believe, prioritize time to be quiet to reflect on and connect to what matters most to you.”
According to previous research, breathing at a rate of about 5.5 to 6 breaths per minute (inhale to a count of 5 and exhale to a count of 5) at an even 1:1 ratio is ideal for building resilience based on correlation with heart rate variability, according to Hanna.
“Some practitioners recommend a slightly extended exhalation to encourage an even greater sense of calm due to the role of the exhalation phase encouraging the parasympathetic, or relaxation, response,” Hanna says. “However, it’s important that you experiment with different techniques and variations until you find the breathing style that is ideal for you, and never force deep breathing as it can actually cause more stress.”