Bywater Consulting Group, LLC
Liz Bywater, PhD

August 2008

Stress Management for Optimum Performance (Part One)

Stress. It's a fact of life for today's busy executives, managers, and independent business owners. And that isn't entirely a bad thing. After all, without some degree of stress, we might not have the motivation needed for getting things done. No pressures, no deadlines, no real urgency to act.

On the other hand, too much stress can dampen performance in a big way. When pressure mounts to excess, even moderate demands can seem insurmountable. Challenges feel like obstacles and productivity plummets. Creativity crashes and collaboration goes down the drain. Think of it this way: If you're busy ducking under your desk, you'll be hard-pressed to inspire your team, communicate your vision, or connect with your customers.

The good news is that stress can be managed. Kept in its rightful place, stress will keep you motivated without overwhelming you - or overshadowing your capabilities. Check out the following tried and true stress management techniques. You'll soon discover that even modest changes can have a dramatic impact.

Breathe. That's right, we're starting with the basics. As our bodies respond to stress, our breathing tends to become rapid and shallow, as we kick into 'fight or flight' mode. By deliberately slowing your breathing and taking deep, calming breaths, you will help your mind and body relax and refocus.

Eat right. It's not front page news that jammed work schedules, all-day meetings, and business travel all wreak havoc on eating a healthy diet. The problem is that a diet of processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats - typical of vending machine and fast food dining - leaves you depleted of energy and unable to give it your all. Take the time to eat well - and remember to drink plenty of water, while you're at it. You'll more than make up any lost time through improved productivity and increased focus.

Exercise. Whether you prefer running, swimming, tennis, or a workout at your local gym, find what you like and do it. Keep yourself healthy and fit and you'll feel calmer, more in control, and better able to take on the every day pressures and demands of work. I recently started boxing on my daughter's Wii system. It's a great cardio workout and a fun way to release the day's tensions!

Sleep. Think about the last time you were feeling the stress of, let's say, an upcoming presentation to senior management or lunch with an important client. How well did you sleep the night before? Chances are, not as well as you could have. In order to maximize performance under pressure, make sure you're getting plenty of undisrupted sleep each night (6 to 8 hours for most people). Establish regular nighttime routines, stay away from caffeine, put away the laptop, and listen to music or read a good book before going to sleep each night.

To get the jump on stress and operate in top form - at work and at home - pay attention to these fundamentals of daily life. Remember, even small changes can pack a serious punch. And look to next Bywater Journal for more stress-busting tips, including: sharing the workload; letting go of perfectionism; keeping your eye on the Big Picture; and more.

Reader Comments:

Wallace B., 36-year United Airlines employee, retired, wrote in:

"I particularly enjoyed your latest newsletter on employee burnout as I could relate to it from my own work experience. In early 1990, United Airlines decided that the Northeast Regional Reservations Center in Rockleigh, NJ, would close due to consolidation… There was a danger to the company that productivity would drop and performance would suffer during the transition period as the office was scheduled to stay open another year. Apathy could have been a big, big problem; however, United made certain that the last year was an easy one for everyone. Certainly it was to the company's benefit to keep as many employees as possible. The expense of training new replacement employees would have been higher than the relatively small cost of doing the right things to avoid employee burnout."

On the Air:

Liz Bywater was the featured guest on the Today show, which aired on June 6, 2008, on Hot102 FM, Kingston, Jamaica. The discussion focused on recognizing, addressing, and preventing the effects of employee burnout.

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Liz Bywater, PhD
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