A survey by TalentSmart showed that 90 percent of top performers know how to manage their emotions in times of stress so that they remain cool, calm, and able to do what needs to be done.
That’s an important lesson in and of itself for all of us - because all of us experience stress in our lives. Research has shown that some stress is good for us: it helps us perform at optimal levels. Too much stress, however, can have serious psychological and physiological repercussions.
Since we can’t necessarily avoid most stress - especially in our work environments - it’s to our benefit to learn how to deal with it, and learn from the examples of those who are already successful.
According to surveys and other research, successful people have some strategies in common when it comes to managing stress.
They practice gratitude for what they have.
It may sound a little Oprah to you, but developing a gratitude practice is a psychologically proven way to reduce stress and maintain a more positive outlook on life. When you have a more positive outlook (and less of the stress hormone cortisol) you are happier and more productive, too.
They stay positive.
Easier said than done? Sometimes. But successful people tend to be those who see opportunities for growth masquerading as failure, and who look for the lessons learned when something goes awry, instead of wallowing in what could’ve/should’ve been. Maintaining a positive outlook. It’s a popular and proven stress management tool. If affirmations aren’t exactly your thing, try reframing negative thoughts. If you find yourself dwelling on something negative, try adding, “But what I can learn from this is…” Even just noticing that you’re stuck in a negative thought can help you move away from it.
They focus on progress, not perfection.
No one is perfect. Not even the most successful people on the planet are perfect - and they would almost certainly tell you the same. Richard Branson, for example, has had some well known failures in his time, yet has always been blunt about his belief that you fail quickly, fail big, learn from it, and move on. Many of us worship the cult of perfection, but letting it go may release us from a heavy burden of undue stress.
They practice self-care.
Successful people often have the presence of mind to realize that they must care for their most important asset - themselves - in order to continue to be successful. They prioritize healthy habits like getting enough sleep, limiting caffeine and alcohol, getting proper exercise, and switching off from technology periodically. Being overly tired, hopped up on chemicals (like caffeine and alcohol) and constantly monitoring our digital lives puts our adrenal glands into overdrive, and our stress levels through the roof. A truly successful person will strive to find balance to help moderate his stress.
They rely on routines.
One major cause of stress is the number of decisions we have to make in a day. Every decision from whether to have the sandwich or the salad all the way up to hiring and firing decisions weighs on us and causes us stress. Relying on simple routines like having the same lunch every day, answering emails at the same time, or even simplifying your wardrobe can help save your stress and sanity for the bigger decisions that really matter. President Obama (who undoubtedly knows a great deal about stress) mentioned this in an interview with Vanity Fair:
"You need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day… You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia."
They keep the big picture in view.
Finally, successful people are able to keep the bigger picture in view, rather than focusing on minutiae. This is about focusing more on the “why” behind what you do than the “how.” For example, you might feel yourself getting stressed out about the fact that you have to work out every day for an hour (the how), but if you focus on the reason you want to work out - to be healthy and live longer - you may find the actual task less stressful.
I hope you find these strategies useful. As always, I am keen to understand how do you manage stress in your life? I’d love to learn your most successful stress-busters in the comments below.