I’ve been talking about stress management for nearly two decades. As a certified personal trainer, and an accredited executive coach, my fascination is where our bodies influence our minds, and vice versa.

Understanding the relationship between your thoughts and your form provides solutions and a path to managing stress. Do you recognize your stress triggers? Maybe even easier is to recognize where you carry your stress? Shoulders up into your neck? Headache? Tight jaw? These are common locations where stress is held, and recognizing where you carry it is the start. The next step is to consider what causes your stress. And, then to determine when do you recognize it? Wow, now I’m stressed just looking for my stress! Argh.

Let’s shift this conversation a little. Way down to the hormonal level, the chemistry in our bodies. Stress releases cortisol. Cortisol stays in our bodies for up to 24 hours, and leads to reduced productivity as it works its way out of our system. Consider that a majority of stressors are internal, knowing that the external stressors compound it, and you may feel a steady (and unhealthy) stream of ongoing cortisol release.

What we stress about continually changes, and yet how we stress remains consistent. Michelle Gielan and Plasticity Labs did the research to create an assessment to understand how the three dimensions of stress work for or against each of us. The relationship between how we handle pressure, how we communicate, and how we problem solve gives us ideas about how to handle stress differently. Check it out for yourself here.

One other piece to this discussion that merits attention was revealed recently in Harvard Business Review. How do you start your day? CNN? NPR? Facebook?  Three minutes of negative news at the beginning of the day translates to 27% higher probability of a bad day. And a bad day is defined as the 6-8 hours that follow those three minutes. A great example of how cortisol stays in your body far longer than hormones that feel good – oxytocin, serotonin, as two examples.

Begin your day with something motivational or inspiring, choosing your news in a way that limits your exposure to sensationalized headlines, and turn off the endless stream of news that is available. As leaders, start by changing the channel on your communication. Telling others about how stressful or unmanageable your day is opens the door to dialogue that is focused on out-negating each other. When you set the tone of complaint, those around receive the message that they can jump in too. Engagement levels drop, the culture of your firm slips into weakened morale, and now you are left scratching your head and wondering what happened. Start your message with the success of a project or meeting, or the completion of a large task. The transition not only boosts your brain chemistry, it passes along the good feelings.

For one last boost in performance, begin pairing solutions with problems (HBR 2017 study showed 20% increase in creative problem solving on subsequent tasks). Even more importantly, creating new habits of proposing up to 5 solutions for each problem improves problem-solving abilities and overall mood. So, the next time you catch yourself stressing about a problem, ask yourself one thing you can do about it right now.

We know that 90% of doctor visits are tied to stress. It’s time to take one small step toward better managing it. Start tomorrow. Choose to start your day with something uplifting. Communicate positivity to your team. Begin pairing solutions with your problems. Three ideas, choose one. Slow and steady, one foot in front of the other.  You got this!


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About the Author

Judy Hissong
Judy Hissong, CLM, is the President of Nesso Strategies. Nesso is the Italian word for connection, and her company is built on the passion of human potential and bottom line improvement. She writes, speaks, trains, and coaches on leadership, wellness, workplace engagement, and communication and conflict skills. Find her on twitter @judyhissong; email judy@nessostrategies.com; phone 619.546.7885; and join her LinkedIn Group “Engaging Legal Leaders” for more conversation about leadership in law firms.