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3-Point Guide to Reducing Professional Stress

Without question, the pace of your professional progress is directly tied to job-related stress and how you cope with it. Understandably, competition for high-paying, purposeful jobs, along with joining a company with an inspiring mission statement, is at a fever pitch. The reality is, when you attain the position of your dreams, you are also assuming the accompanying expectation to innovate and execute. Albeit exciting, this can also prove to be a little horrifying.

As a former high-stakes commercial litigator turned consultant and coach to professionals and companies, I have observed high levels of stress as a problematic barrier to success, longevity and happiness, both personally and professionally. Therefore, if you integrate these three routines, you will see a dramatic decline in stress, increase in your physical and mental resilience  and maximize your overall job performance, while enjoying what you do!

I. Mindfulness meditation

Simply put, mindfulness is staying present in each moment and just living. Easy right? Not really. You’d be surprised how much emotional energy you expend ruminating about the past, or living in the future, generating mounds of unnecessary anxiety, stress, addictive behavior and ultimately, depression.

Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking. Why? According to Psychcentral.com, our impulse to think of the day ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and our brain releases high amounts of cortisol into our blood. Cortisol is our body’s “stress hormone.” Practicing mindfulness to begin the workday is proven to reduce stress and increase efficiency and overall happiness.

This is how I approach my morning mindfulness routine and I recommend you try this as well:

  1. Take 10 minutes at your desk or in private to boost your brain with a short mindfulness practice;
  2. Close your eyes, relax and sit upright;
  3. Fully focus on your breath by simply maintaining an ongoing flow of attention of your breathing: inhale, exhale; inhale; exhale;
  4. To help focus on breathing, count silently at each exhalation;
  5. If you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath; and,
  6. Most importantly, allow yourself to enjoy these minutes.

Throughout the rest of the day your patience will be tested, but for these 10 minutes, your attention is all your own. Feel free to repeat as needed throughout your day!

2. Daily exercise

Without question, exercise is an essential part to effectively relieving stress. According to the American Psychological Association, a minuscule 17% of adults report exercising daily. And yet, 53% of adults say they feel good about themselves after exercising, 35% say it puts them in a good mood and 30% feel less stressed. Baffling to many, is the fact that professionals who report exercising less frequently than those with low-stress, appear to be more aware of the effect that exercise has on their stress level.

Your mental stability and physical wellness are inextricably tied to one another. Their preservation is integral to relieving stress, and effectively mitigating against your professional stressors and anxieties. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise sharply reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, while stimulating endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators, responsible for the “runner’s high” and for the feelings of relaxation and optimism that accompany many hard workouts.

If you allocate one hour to physical fitness at least three days a week, then your stress levels will dip drastically. Personally, I wake up at 5 am, six days a week and exercise for about 90 minutes. This way, I begin my day relaxed and am in a superior position to combat the stressors of the day that come my way.

3. Integrating emotional intelligence (EQ)

High emotional intelligence (EQ) is the best cure to workplace stress. Why? Because soft interpersonal skills matter in every job, at every company, regardless of where you currently stand on the corporate totem pole, as all jobs involve interacting with people. Most importantly, people with higher EQ are more rewarding to deal with.

The fundamental tenets of EQ consist of:

  1. Self-awareness;
  2. Self-regulation;
  3. Empathy;
  4. Motivation;
  5. Strong social skills.

Taken together, think of EQ as the hallmark of workplace negotiation and social etiquette—what the great Dale Carnegie called, “How to win friends and influence people.”

Professional disengagement and stress are clearly shown to be major inhibitors of productivity and retention. According to the American Institute of Stress reports that stress is the main cause underlying 40% of workplace turnovers and 80% of work-related injuries. Further, in a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology, participants in stress-management programs integrating EQ as part of their professional development and corporate environment, yielded an average of a 35% reduction in stress and acute anxiety. Therefore, the solution is clear: Make EQ stress-management programs available to professionals and companies. After all, it is indisputable that employee stress and attrition is directly attributed to their managers’ failure to motivate, actively listen and mentor their colleagues, ultimately leading to professionals quitting, or even worse, total company collapse.

Mindful meditation + physical fitness + enhancing EQ = success without stress

The equation is simply spelled out, easy to implement and cardinal to your success. First, mindfulness meditation overrides our brain’s penchant for reactivity and minimizes mental distraction, enhancing moment-to-moment awareness. Second, physical fitness serves as exercise for the body and mind—neither of which should be neglected. Lastly, incorporating a well-developed emotional intelligence skill set helps create the parameters for optimal workplace interaction, proven to succeed, with lasting results. Taken altogether, this is an awesome way to combat crushing stress affecting every professional’s personal and equally as important, professional life.

About the Author Dan Sarfati

Dan Sarfati is a former litigator and "BIG" law attorney. While in Big law, he drank heavily, smoked cigarettes, and became an addict. Luckily, he decided to resign, get sober and get active. While in practice, Dan noticed lawyers were killing themselves in all sorts of different ways, slowly or quickly. He became tired of losing friends to addiction and mental health issues. So he created MindWell, which focuses on coaching and counseling professionals suffering from depression/anxiety/stress/addiction, or just feel stuck. His ability to empathize, actively listen, and help lost professionals adapt are his hallmarks. In addition to individual coaching, Dan lectures at universities, conducts workshops, and assists firms and companies on integrating well- constructed wellness programs to maximize employee retention, along with improving employee engagement.

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