Scott Crump has stress.
He is co-founder and chief executive of a $100 million tech company, Stratasys. And, like many CEOs, Crump is faced with a laundry list of tasks and roles, from deciding the company's direction to reporting to his board and investors to giving presentations to hundreds of people. He spends about a quarter of each month traveling.
But at the age of 52, Crump hasn't faced any major stress-related health issues. He has a happy family life and loves his job. So what's he doing that's so different from others who travel the same path? Crump is working with his stress.
"I think positive stress is good," he says. "That's what competition is about. But, I try to stay away from a long-term period of negative stress."
With success may come material comfort, but not necessarily relaxation. The higher on the proverbial career ladder one gets, the more responsibility one shoulders, the greater the distance from colleagues and staffers, and the less free time one has.
That's why Crump is proactive in managing his stress. He eats well, quit smoking and works out when he has time. He makes sure to schedule vacations with his family throughout the year. When he is traveling for work, he makes an effort to get out and see the sights — even if he only has an hour or two. He also attributes his stress management to having an understanding wife (who helped found the company) and hiring smart, confident employees. "That really takes the load off," he says.
Believe it or not, this Midwestern CEO is also quick to recommend meditation, humor at meetings and getting a little bit of sleep — contrary to what many proper top execs think appropriate.
Don't get us wrong — humans need stress in limited doses. Stress can motivate and inspire. And while lounging poolside sounds great for a week or two, it's tough to imagine spending every day sunbathing. Kicking back won't get your business off the ground, launch you into the top rungs of management, or help pay for that house in the Hamptons.
But, living a life of constant aggravation isn't good either. Stress causes people to overeat, smoke, drink or lose sleep — each of which can contribute to problems such as high cholesterol, heart disease and cancer. Constant stress causes the body to produce high levels of cortisol, which can impair cognitive functioning and weaken the immune system. Stress has also been linked to problems such as hypertension and heart attacks.
"We've thought for a long time that type A personalities were predisposed to cardiovascular problems, but it turns out it's those who have increased rage and negative stress who have a higher risk for heart disease," says Dr. Woodson Merrell, M. Anthony Fischer director of Integrative Medicine at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel hospital in New York City.
Stress is different for each person. That is why figuring out how to address stress can be difficult. Techniques that work for some may not work for others — and even worse, can become additional sources of stress. The first step is to acknowledge that the stress is there — a problem that many CEOs and executives have.
"It's highly unlikely for a CEO to admit he is stressed out for fear of showing any sign of weakness," says Paul J. Rosch, MD, president of the American Institute of Stress in New York City.
Once the stress and its source have been pinpointed, the next step is to figure out how to reduce the problems or create ways to balance them.