TMCnet Feature
December 26, 2019

Want to be a Better CIO? Start by Reducing Stress

A CIO’s Guide to Lowering Stress and Improving Performance

As CIO of a company, you carry a lot of weight. If you aren’t careful, this burden can translate into stress and anxiety. Ultimately, this puts a strain on your performance and can exacerbate the underlying feelings. What you need is a plan for reducing stress and maximizing performance.

The Problem With Stress

Stress is a natural and biological response to any perceived threat in our immediate environment. It’s a direct product of the human fight-or-flight response that helps us fend off potentially dangerous attacks.

When stress hits, muscles tense up, heart rate increases, breathing become faster, pupils dilate, and cognitive processing can even briefly improve to help us think faster and more efficiently.

“These responses are helpful when we’re facing real dangers such as a physical attack or a natural disaster,” happiness researcher Annie McKee writes. “But here’s the catch: “Unfortunately, our brains don’t do a very good job of distinguishing this type of serious danger from the kinds of pressures and threats we experience at work.”

Stress is designed to help us in specific times of need. It’s a short-term physiological response intended to produce momentary benefits. However, when stress becomes prolonged and chronic – like in the workplace – the effects are negative and depleting.

Health-wise, stress can lead to a litany of issues like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart issues, gastrointestinal problems, restlessness, substance abuse, and increased susceptibility to serious illnesses like diabetes or cancer.

Chronic stress can also impact workplace performance by inhibiting productivity, lowering accuracy, stifling output, and limiting effectiveness in areas like communication and management.

According to studies from McKee and her research partner Emma Seppälä, anxiety and stress even have a way of transferring to other people in the office.

“Anxious emotions such as fear are physiologically contagious through pheromones, chemicals released in our sweat,” Seppälä explains. “When someone emits ‘fear pheromones,’ the people who come into contact with that person show greater activation in brain areas corresponding to anxiety and fear (particularly the amygdala).”

4 Solutions for Overcoming Stress

Stress can present issues for any employee of any company at any level of seniority, but it’s particularly problematic for people in executive leadership positions. As a CIO, you can’t let stress and anxiety dictate your life or career. Here are some steps you can take to overcome the underlying issues and enhance your overall performance.

1. Know Your Triggers

No two people are the same. We all respond differently to challenges, opportunities, and external stimuli. The key is to know what your stress triggers are so that you can avoid and overcome them.

Make a note of when you feel most anxious. Is it in the morning before you get to the office? Is it immediately after a big meeting? Is it when you have to give someone constructive feedback on their poor performance?

When you understand what stresses you out, you can introduce proactive steps to alleviate these situations. This will result in a more balanced approach.

For example, let’s say you get most anxious prior to arriving at the office in the morning. If you’re honest with yourself, this might be a result of your poor daily preparation. You feel stressed because you know there are tasks on your desk that you aren’t ready to tackle.

If this is your stress trigger, you can overcome it by being more prepared. Maybe this looks like organizing your desktop and filtering your email before leaving the office at night. Or it could mean waking up 30 minutes earlier and reviewing important work prior to your commute. The point is that understanding your triggers allows you take control.

2. Take Care of Yourself

As mentioned, stress is a biological issue. One of the best ways to avoid and overcome feelings of stress is to take care of your mind and body. Things like regular exercise, deep breathing, proper diet and nutrition, and healthy relationships go a long way towards helping you feel a greater sense of balance.

3. Stop Wasting Time

If you’re like most CIOs, you feel stressed about the limited amount of time you have in your day. As you gain new responsibilities and additional duties, the amount of time you have to fulfill these obligations stays the same. The key is to stop wasting so much time.

There are little things you do – both in the office and outside of it – that strip you of valuable time that could be used to accomplish important tasks and relieve pressure.

There are ample opportunities to save time. Let’s say, for example, that you’re selling a car. You don’t have to go to dealerships or deal with the hassle of listing your vehicle on Craigslist. Believe it or not, you can have someone visit your office/home and buy your car for cash on the spot.

Or what about grocery shopping? Why waste an hour or more of your day driving to the supermarket, traversing the disorganized aisles, and waiting in line at the register, when you could just order groceries online and have them delivered to your house?

By reducing the amount of time you waste on simple tasks, you can use your time more efficiently and get more done. This mitigates stress and simultaneously enhances performance.

4. Set Reasonable Expectations

If you read too many business books or listen to motivational podcasts (a la Tony Robbins), you’ll walk away with the impression that the only way to be successful in business is to set huge goals and to become hyper-focused on achieving insane results.

But here’s the deal: willpower will only get you so far. Eventually, your overambitious pursuit of unrealistic goals will drain your energy dry and produce a feeling of chronic stress and anxiety.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you probably can’t do everything you set your mind to. You can do a lot of it, but the “name it, claim it” culture is pretty misleading. There comes a point when doing too much produces diminishing results.

Sometimes the best thing is to lower your expectations to a more reasonable level. Require undeniable effort and good results, but don’t expect perfection.

“If you are a perfectionist, then you are probably very familiar with stress. None of us can perform perfectly, so expecting perfection sets us up for failure. You always want to do your best and strive for continuous improvement, but don’t expect perfection. It is better to be reasonable and set standards for ourselves that are actually achievable,” entrepreneur Karoline Holicky explains.

Take Charge of Your Life and Career

You’ve worked too hard – personally and professionally – to let stress rule your thoughts, actions, and performance. By proactively addressing stress in a head-on manner, you can eliminate some of its power and enjoy a more productive and fruitful life. Will you take the necessary steps?

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