Our brains are under constant assault from stressors. To reduce the amount of stress you feel and to improve your resilience, move. Move around physically. Exercise. Walk while on conference calls. Move. Movement has huge benefits in terms of stress reduction and resilience.
A data breach impacting millions. A failure of your core systems due to too much volume leaving users stranded. Two key executives leaving without successors in place.
If you are a leader, imagining each of the aforementioned, true, situations, is enough to double your heart rate. And it should. Thinking about attacks, major human errors, and poor planning triggers the region of your brain that causes stress.
Your amygdala, which I call your alarm, is a tiny, almond shaped region in the middle, left, and right sides of your brain. Bears have alarms. So do iguanas. Our ancestors a thousand years ago did too. Animals and old-timers needed their alarms to stay safe. To avoid danger, they had to be able to run and hide from nastier creatures or avoid the wrong food or water.
Our problem today is that too many moments in life feel like a Sabre-tooth tiger approaching, as we sit safely in our offices, drive comfortably in our cars, and have full fridges of healthy, nutritious food (in addition to cake, wine, and cheese).
That’s why you and your execs are stressed. Their alarms are on all the time. The risk from hackers has never been higher. Our technology is more powerful and more complicated than ever, and only continues to become more so of each. Our teams are made of independent, smart colleagues who will take a better job. As we think about these realities, unlike danger from which you can fight or flee, we need modern solutions. So many of our stressors are stuck in our head and we don’t know what to do.
What is also common with our ancestors is that they too sought relief from the things that stressed them out. What used to be the purview of shaman and healers is now the focus of neuroscientists and applied psychologists. Many of the answers that the ancients discovered intuitively, we now have empirical data to back up. You don’t have to let the stress you feel last. You can inoculate yourself from the real triggers that may, in fact, get worse in the years to come.
First, get up and move. Move every day. Not in your car. Not on a plane. Walk, bike, run, row, dance: move your body because while you live in modern times we haven’t evolved far enough to ignore our alarms’ simple commands. When it senses danger, it wants you to move. Walk with your headset on during a conference call. Have a few of your one-to-one meetings walking or on bikes at the gym. I hear too many execs saying they don’t exercise. If you don’t have the time, make it a regular part of your day or your stress level will keep rising. You can get used to the extra adrenaline, and the side effects of chronic stress are lovely things like high blood pressure, weight gain, and trouble sleeping. I choose, instead, to move during as many meetings as possible and get vigorous exercise as many days as possible. Studies show just ten minutes of exercise cuts the stress and twenty minutes creates clearer thinking. I know this is not new advice. I hope the research shows you how essential it is to do the deeper work that reduces stress.
Second, values. You have them, whether you realize it or not. Every time you choose to work rather than hang out with your friends or family, you express your values. When you yell at a colleague who lets you down rather than prepping for the conversation with a mentor and then truly trying to change the relationship, you live out what you think is most important. Our alarms know when our lives don’t match our values. Identify what is most important to you and you can adjust your life to match who you really want to be.
Third, train. As individuals, if we don’t work in time-blocks, meditate, and seek out inspiration daily, our alarms know that we are stagnating. Your brain can be a muck filled pond or a crystal clear ocean. The key is to build a mental training regimen that works for you. Every brain needs different exercises to stay nimble, and every brain needs to be trained if you want to be resilient facing the real stress of our global economy.
These are the beginnings of changing the stress levels for you and your team. Make your brain health a priority and more breaches can be prevented, mistakes can be caught earlier, and your best team members will want to stay on your team.
What can you do to make yourself and your leadership team more resilient?
Are you interested in learning how to build a resilient team and help them improve their skills in this arena? Check out our Building Leadership Resilience course where you can get Jon to come teach your team how to do exactly that. If you’re interested in working with him, just drop us a line!
– Jon Wortmann is an expert in the areas of communication, leadership, and stress reduction. He’s the author of multiple books including Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence, The Three Commitments of Leadership: How Clarity, Stability, and Rhythm Create Great Leaders, and Hijacked by Your Brain: Discovering the Path to Freedom From Stress.
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