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Leading with Character: Stress Strengthens

Don’t let stress be the elephant in the room that everyone realizes is an overwhelming problem, but no one wants to tackle.

For most of us, the word “stress” likely conjures up unfavorable images. But there’s another side of the coin. Recently, I read about the role of stress in making us more resilient. Emerging research by Dr. Elissa Epel indicates that bursts of stress induced by exercise, diet, or temperature can condition one to endure chronic stress. That made me think, “What if, instead of trying to eliminate stress, we embraced it head-on and endeavored to grow stronger from it?”

Ever since I discovered yoga, I’ve been a believer in the power of the body-mind-spirit connection. Unfortunately, people often neglect to include the spiritual component, which I believe is a vital part of that triad. If bursts of stress can further strengthen that connection, it becomes a powerful tool to combat the stress most of us have experienced over the past two years.

The Body-Mind-Spirit Connection

We need to learn as much as we can about building resilience against and coping with chronic stress. It’s not going to go away, even as COVID-19 recedes. The next stressor is lurking over the horizon. What are you doing to prepare yourself, your family, and your workplace? You can tap into the power of that body-mind-spirit connection.

Body: One way we can prepare for whatever the next crisis or stressful situation might be is by deliberately conditioning ourselves to enduring and recovering from short spikes of physical stress. Options include elevating the heart rate through bursts of effort, such as increasing the intensity on a treadmill; fasting; and taking cold showers and/or hot saunas. Of course, any of the above should be performed at a reasonable intensity commensurate with a person’s fitness/tolerance.

Two of these activities work for me. For most of my life, I’ve started my day with a one-mile swim, which often takes place in a relatively cold pool. Although it’s shocking to jump in, I feel great when it’s over and I’m recovering in a warm shower. In the afternoon, I’ll often get on the elliptical and do an interval workout. Again, I feel stronger and kind of victorious when it’s finished and I step off that darned machine.

Mind: Another way to turn stress to strength is to embrace a positive mental outlook of the situation. Too often, people succumb to negative coping behaviors like anger, depression, or turning to substances or habits that are detrimental to good health. Instead, people can strengthen themselves by embracing stress as a potential source of energy, and as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Spirit: Perhaps most important of all, spiritual conditioning can fortify us to meet new challenges and stressors. During the most stressful times in my life, I’ve turned inward to harness the power of the Holy Spirit and turned upward to God for guidance. Thus, I have not only overcome the stress of the moment, but built the strength to deal with ever-greater challenges.

The Role of Leaders

Leaders can help their employees find strength through stress by opening and leading the discussion. Employees need to hear from their leader that it’s normal to be stressed during trying times, and that the leader understands. Don’t let stress be the elephant in the room that everyone realizes is an overwhelming problem, but no one wants to tackle. Look for telltale behaviors in employees, such as dissatisfaction, tardiness, anger, depression. Demonstrate the moral courage to acknowledge and address stress head-on. Encourage people to consider ways they can strengthen themselves through stress, then support them in their journeys.

Look in the mirror. What can you do to strengthen yourself and others to be more prepared to meet the stress of the next crisis?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters, and sign up for my mailing list: https://sandrastosz.com/book/breaking-ice-and-breaking-glass/

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Stosz, a Homeland Security Today editorial board member, started out in the U.S. Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her 40-year career is filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership, and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Vice Admiral Stosz to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. Proceeds from “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” will be donated to the US Coast Guard Academy James M. Loy Institute for Leadership.

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