Stress Awareness: A Leader’s Toolkit

April is Stress Awareness Month, a time when we should take a moment to just understand how stress impacts our lives both personally and professionally. However, this is a mindfulness activity everyone should do every day. Leaders especially need to be aware of stress and how it affects their stamina, their insights, the people around them, and the organizations they lead. There are five things I recommend to help you and your teams manage stress.


The first is stop. Just stop and breathe. We underestimate the fact that most of us don’t take deep breaths, where we breathe four counts in, hold for four counts, and breathe out four counts. Do this for five minutes a day, one minute at a time. Just stop. You’ll find that centering your mind and body and giving your heart the air that it needs can really make a difference in dealing with stressors and giving you the stamina and the mindfulness needed to relax. By understanding that there’s something stressing you out, you’ll find it easier to take control inside first, gain your center, and use oxygen and your ability to breathe deeply to re-energize yourself and your body.


Second is self-care. Self-care is not just about exercising and eating right–which are so important to help you dealing with stress–but sometimes it means going for a five-minute walk, taking a moment to sit quietly outside and let the breeze blow across your face, sitting in the grass (something that we don’t, as adults, get a chance to do like we did when we were kids), or taking a moment to play a game you enjoy. Self-care can also look like giving yourself that facial you’ve wanted. If you don’t take care of yourself, we all know it’s very difficult to take care of others.


On the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, two characters celebrate “Treat Yo’Self Day” every year. I really believe in treating yourself. It’s not to make you a glutton–it’s not to make you think that eating a sweet, going shopping, or buying a pair of shoes will make you consistently feel better–but it can certainly reduce your stress for a moment in time. So, if a moment of treating yourself makes you feel a little better, do it! It’s not something you want to do all the time, but sometimes, it just feels good to treat yourself.


Laughter is one of the best panaceas for stress and pain. Finding others to laugh with is even more fun, and if it can be the most insane, ridiculous childish thing possible, then that’s even better. As a leader, showing your team that you can laugh at yourself will change everyone’s stress meter because it makes it easier for them to accept laughing at themselves.


Finally, appoint a new designated owner. If there’s something you’ve kept on your plate that you’ve kept there because you thought you were the only one who could do it, the fact is that someone else on your team could and should own it. Share the opportunities to lead and grow by designating this person to lead the initiative, sit in on a meeting, or speak at a conference on your behalf, and reduce some of your own stress in the meantime. Change your stress profile. Just one or two changes like this can make a massive difference.

Resolve to change some of the stressful things in your personal and professional life. Stress increases the impact of all the things that make us unhealthy and decreases our ability to enjoy the things in life that we have worked so hard to enjoy. Take it, understand it, manage it, and don’t let it manage you. Laugh, breathe, and treat yourself!