The Stress is Real – and so is the Antidote

November 10, 2017

Are you feeling more stressed, anxious, and taxed as a leader?

Know that you are not alone.

Early last year, we began noticing a theme in our conversations with leaders ICL supports: folks were struggling with hyped workloads, uncertainty, the intense loss of environmental and conservation gains made over decades, and added stress for people of color, immigrants, and women who feel more targeted by headlines and hate. Sound familiar to you?

Maybe because we’ve been thinking about it more, or maybe because it is so real for so many, we have noticed the theme being reinforced in the media, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Time Magazine, and even findings supported by the American Psychological Association.

Sustained stress and anxiety takes a toll on our bodies. When stressed, our sympathetic nervous system kicks up cortisol and other hormones that hyper-activate our hearts, tense our muscles, and cause rapid breathing. It’s a basic human fight or flight response. And the data about long-term heightened stress and anxiety isn’t pretty. It can present sobering health impacts such as reduced brain functioning, increased chronic pain, and increased susceptibility to illness.

The antidote to this? Intentionally engaging our parasympathetic nervous system – the “rest and digest” capacity – that lowers stress hormones and releases hormones that increase our bodies’ ability to relax, be calm, rest, and restore energy.

We’ve started offering workshops and forums to help leaders address stress and build their self-care in the current climate. In partnership with other groups, ICL has created sessions to engage leaders about the reality of stress and how to counter it.

Here are some daily practices to “rest and digest” that have resonated with leaders in our sessions:

  • Step-away mid-day: Set an alarm to remind you to step away from your work. Take a mid-day break for office yoga, serious stretching, or simply eating food (without multi-tasking; that’s right – chewing, tasting and appreciating your food!). Even going outside for a 15 minute walk can reduce cognitive fatigue, boost your immune system, and elevate your sense of well-being.
  • Turn it off: The electronic screens in your life can create a state of constant input and news that feeds your anxiety, worry, and stress. Experiment and create your own rhythms and boundaries with regular “no screen” time – it might be a regular block of time during your day, or it might be a longer break over the weekend.  Especially helpful to a good night’s sleep – turn the screens off at least 45 minutes before you retire for the night.
  • Breathe: Yeah, I know. We all breathe, all the time. However, benefits of more oxygen and relaxation happens best when we breathe deeply. A simple way to start? Set a timer for 3 minutes, and take long, slow, deep breaths focusing on filling your lungs and your belly with air. We are all busy, and yet we can all dedicate 3 minutes of helpful breathing to recoup and reground, yes?

Have other ideas or suggestions for ICL to address the reality of stress?

Let us know your thoughts at info at icl dot org. We are digging in to better support leaders in taking care of themselves and creating personal and organizational strategies to counter the real stress and challenges we face. We value your input!


8 thoughts on “The Stress is Real – and so is the Antidote”

  1. I recently attended a session on dealing with stress led by staff of ICL at the Healing our Waters Coalition meeting in Buffalo along with 20 or so other leaders. The entire session was awesome and most appreciated.

  2. Fabulous. Go for a walk. Surround yourself with plants in your office. Get sun on your face daily.
    I have a fountain by my desk (when I am in office). Listen to music not news in the car. Music affects me immediately.

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