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The media is calling our present day the age of anxiety. From constant connectivity to political unpredictability, there’s no shortage of stress-inducing ingredients.
Now, April is #StressAwarenessMonth. I assume we’re all intimately familiar with the experience of stress: overloaded, overstretched and overwhelmed. Or, perhaps, obsession, anxiety and being sick all the time is your story.
The questions are how aware are you of its impacts on your performance and are you equipped with tools to effectively bust?
As political professionals, stress run riot impairs the parts of the brain in charge of decision-making, compromising communication, strategic prowess and the ability to navigate complexity. These factors not only negatively impact personal health, they can impact the health of our campaigns.
With that, stress is not all bad. Stanford University’s health psychologist Kelly McGonigal lays out the case for its benefits in her book The Upside of Stress. McGonigal reports that working with and through stressful situations demonstrates how strong we are, connects us to our purpose, connects us to others and cultivates a growth mindset of ongoing improvement and development.
To get you started, I’m sharing five of my favorite accessible, evidence-based go-tos to help you shift your stress from debilitative to generative when the going gets tough. They strengthen emotional regulation, memory generation, interpersonal communication and executive function. They also take us out of that "fight or flight" response and into a more responsive state in which we have getter control and ease
Take a civic leader mindful minute.
Set a timer for one minute. Breathe in and out deeply. Try to focus your attention only on your breath until the timer sounds. Ready to start a practice? Here's how in six easy steps.
Go outside and look at the sky.
It's spring. Take advantage of the seasonal affect and soak in those sunny rays for 5-15 minutes. We spend roughly 93 percent of our waking hours indoors. Being in nature boosts cognitive functioning, increases creativity and makes us feel part of something greater (because we are).
Do something nice five times in one day.
This is a fast and sure fire way to boost that yummy oxytocin (the "feel good" hormone) in our brains and bodies: practicing a random act of kindness. Open the door for a stranger. Let someone in as you merge while driving. Make dinner for your partner. Say “thank you.” Donate to a cause you are passionate about. It’s important to do all five nice things in one day for optimal happiness and pro-social behavior effects.
Make a list of five personal props.
What personal stories are weighing you down? Highly resilient leaders mine personal stories for truths and transform them into resources of personal power that prop them up. Get something to write on and something to write with. Start by listing the five most cringe worthy stories you tell yourself. Then, write out their opposites. When those little internal gremlins want to play, thank them for their opinions and counter offer with your personal prop.
Listen to music.
Be sure that it’s upbeat and positive. Studies find that positive music elevates mood and energy, whereas sad/somber and even neutral tunes have the counter affect. Explore: SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, SiriusXM, Pandora, whatever.
Go ahead. Reduce anxiety, confusion and overwhelm. Engage that moment of zen in service to your performance and well-being. You deserve it.
Frieda K. Edgette is principal of Novos Consulting, a civic-minded organizational strategy and coaching consultancy.