Leaders generally deal with some level of stress on a daily basis—but they can’t let it sidetrack them or shut them down. With multiple responsibilities on their plate, leaders need to have go-to strategies and coping mechanisms to ease both everyday and situational stress and get back to the work at hand.
With plenty of experience coping with the myriad responsibilities of leadership, the members of Fast Company Executive Board have their own methods for handling high-pressure moments, big responsibilities, and heavy workloads. Below, 15 of them share their favorite ways to find calm and move forward. Follow their recommendations the next time you find yourself carrying the burden of stress.
1. THINK ABOUT SOMETHING YOU’RE GRATEFUL FOR.
I take a step back and think about something I am grateful for that brings me happiness and peace. That quickly shifts my energy into gratitude mode, brings a smile to my face, and destresses me, helping me get my focus back. – Yasmin Davidds, Dr. Yasmin Davidds Leadership Institute
2. STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER.
I’m a big believer in the mini brain break. I like to take 10 to 20 minutes away from the computer and do something that reduces cortisol levels and stimulates body regulation, whether that’s sitting outside with no technology to just experience the awe of nature or doing a quick yoga break. I know I need to recalibrate my body and mind when my stress levels get high. – Shannon Lucas, Catalyst Constellations
3. SCHEDULE TIME FOR MEDITATION AND DEEP FOCUS.
I wake up consistently between 3:30 a.m and 4:30 a.m. I leverage this time for reading, praying, and meditation. Next, I usually get in a workout followed by more meditation time in the steam room. I am usually at my office by 6:30 a.m., which provides me with a couple of hours to conquer major tasks that require heavy discipline before the arrival and potential distraction of others. – Anthony Flynn, Amazing CEO LLC
4. SET ASIDE AT LEAST AN HOUR A DAY THAT’S JUST FOR YOU.
Every day, I set aside one compulsory hour that’s dedicated to myself. During that time, I stay away from work, my phone, or any other media. I step outside into nature if the weather is good, and if it’s not, I step into my comic book room, where I completely and totally relax and recharge. – Steve Dantas, CarrierDirect
5. SHIFT YOUR FOCUS TO ANOTHER TASK.
If I need to destress quickly, I typically have to move away from my work to-do list and pick up something from my home/mom to-do list. I find that if I sink my teeth into another to-do list and can quickly check something off, it gives me the energy to step back into work and continue to execute. – Liz Carter, ServiceMax
6. TAKE A BREAK FROM YOUR CELLPHONE.
In order to regain focus, I like to do a form of exercise where it’s impossible for me to look at my phone. Some exercises that I enjoy are swimming and hiking and biking in remote areas without cell service. If I’m in a place where cell reception is available, I put my phone into airplane mode to simulate the same effect. This brief time away from work allows me to destress and disconnect. – Lauren Salz, Sealed
7. FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE.
When I feel stressed or anxious, I try to focus on the big picture and sit in gratitude. That might include taking the time to connect with my husband, family, or friends over a meal, working out, or going for a walk. I also spend time each month connecting directly with the LGBTQ youth we serve; this helps me stay focused on our mission and leaves me energized by their resilience and power. – Amit Paley, The Trevor Project
8. FIND STRENGTH IN YOUR LOVED ONES.
I think it’s really important to ground yourself in something that is personally important to you, like your kids, pet, spouse, or even a hero you look up to. When I can take a moment to focus on the bigger picture, the daily stress of things just naturally takes the place that it should have: in the backseat. – Joyce Kim, Genesys
9. SLOW DOWN TO GAIN PERSPECTIVE.
Perspective is key for dealing with stress. When I’m in the middle of a stressful situation, what is always most helpful for me is to first create space by taking a break. Even when things are really busy, you can still carve out 15 to 20 minutes to walk around the block, savor a cup of coffee, or read a chapter of a fun book. Slowing down helps you come back ready to tackle anything. – Alexandra Cavoulacos, The Muse
10. START THE DAY OFF WITH MOVEMENT.
For me, moving meditation is the perfect antidote for stress and distracted thinking. Starting the day off with movement reminds me to focus attention on what is happening in the present (in my case, running) and what is within my control (my breathing and pacing). With multitasking being an ever-present requirement for a CEO, this practice helps me cultivate focus throughout my workday. – Krishna Kutty, Kuroshio Consulting Inc.
11. BREAK INTO SONG.
Sing loudly! It is a full mind-body workout if you engage the diaphragm to get a good lungful of air. It is best to sing something with lots of emotion and even a little rage— just let it all out. I am an opera fanatic, so there are lots of melodramatic tunes for me to choose from. There is a risk of developing a reputation for eccentricity if anyone hears you, but being frozen by stress is much worse! – Andrew Binns, Change Logic LLC
12. TRY GRATITUDE JOURNALING.
Recently, I’ve implemented gratitude journaling for five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening as a way to stay focused and destress. If you know how good you have it, it’s much easier to see past and tackle your stress. Gratitude journaling allows me to stay present. By staying present, I deal with my stress better and am also able to destress by staying present with my loved ones. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media LLC
13. PRACTICE BOX BREATHING.
Box breathing, a relaxation technique used by Navy SEALs, is very effective for reducing stress on the spot. Also, aim to sleep seven to eight hours each night, and let go of perfectionism—both a lack of sleep and perfectionism have been proven to increase our anxiety levels. When you add daily stressors to the mix, your cognitive abilities decline, which hinders your ability to perform. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5
14. ADOPT MORE FLEXIBLE THINKING.
First, “untwist” your thoughts—don’t see failure as all-or-nothing. Also, much of our stress is caused by a lack of understanding and planning, so it’s important to have built-in flexibility in your plans. Finally, learn to say “no” when you are over-allocated, and don’t think that being busy 100% of the time is being productive. Leaving time to think about how to do things better is vital. – Will Conaway, The HCI Group (A Tech Mahindra Company)
15. LITERALLY DO NOTHING.
I’ve come across an interesting but unusual way to refocus and end the procrastination that can result from being stressed: Sit down and spend 10 to 20 minutes doing absolutely nothing. Don’t read, talk to anyone, use social media, or do any kind of activity. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but after a while, you’ll feel at ease and ready to get back to work. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner