August 22, 2017

Lesson #3: Health — How Do You Deal With Stress?

I have a confession to make. I have not always been in good physical shape.

I have battled my weight ever since I was a kid. I got most of it under control by high school but soon slipped back into obesity during college.

My college years consisted of donuts, coffee and Camel Lights. I did eat the occasionally salad, in between shots of Jagermeister and pints of Sierra Nevada, but it slowly made me gain a ton of weight.

This fiasco continued into my working career where I worked way too much and ate way too many Pop Tarts. I would get out and do some exercise but it was never enough. The only upside was that I quit smoking.

At my heaviest, I was 225 pounds. Contrast that to my high school years when I was 165 (now, I hover around 180) and you can start to see how weight was weighing me down.

Now, I know better. I try, really try, to exercise everyday, watch what I eat (although I am weak for chocolate old fashion donuts — sheer bliss!) and keep my stress levels in check.

Leading yourself and others to success will be demanding. It will take a mental and physical toll. Mix that with the stress of leadership and you can see how it can start to wear your body down.

Being in mental and physical shape is your best defense against the rigors of leadership. It will be your ace in the hole when you have to push yourself that extra little bit to achieve your goals. Think of your physical fitness as part of your leadership lifestyle and you will never skimp on it again.

How You Feel is How You Think

Fitness has a direct relationship to your mental and physical wellbeing. As a leader, you will be put through challenges that will push you to your physical and mental limits. Being prepared for those bouts starts with getting into shape.

Physical Fitness Increases Brain Function

Your brain is a marvelous thing. It has the capacity to remember complex formulas, facts and tasks. It can puzzle through the toughest mazes and appreciate a subtle change in the 2nd violin.

What your brain needs to function is an amply supply of oxygen and nutrient rich blood. You can achieve this by getting your body into shape. Even a modest amount of exercise helps.

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain which triggers biochemical changes that spur the production of new brain neurons. The more neurons, the better your cognitive ability.

With this increase in cognitive ability, we can perform at higher levels and transform yourself into abetter leader.

The Stress Factor

Stress is one of the biggest causes of sickness and death. Stress also causes us to overindulge in activities that make us temporally feel better (like overeating and drinking alcohol).

Stress causes lots of negative effects on our body. Stress can cause anxiety, headaches and insomnia.

Over time, these effects take their toll and our overall attitude, performance and wellbeing suffer greatly. One of the best ways to manage stress is physical exercise.

A Natural Stress Reducer

Physical exercise does a lot for us. It allows us to maintain a healthy weight, it boosts our high-density liporotein (HDL) while decreasing unhealthy triglycerides, it relaxes us by releases various brain chemicals (like endorphins) and increases our energy levels.

Exercise is also a natural stress reducer because it allows us to bleed off nervous energy. It’s also a great way to loose yourself in a task — thus temporally forgetting about your problems.

It’s a Lifestyle Not a Diet

Most of us have had problems with our weight given that obesity is starting to become an epidemic (at least in the US).

Good nutrition and exercise are vital to our success. One cannot be had without the other.

If you are constantly sick, tired, stressed and depressed, you will never reach your full potential. Now, I’m not saying you have to run marathons like I do but it’s important to realize that your physical health is the foundation in which all of your other activities are built.

Without that solid foundation, your ability to handle stress, work through complex problems, keep up with peers and seize opportunities will be severally diminished.

Think of it this way. When you are sick, how much do you feel like putting in that extra effort? If you are in a bad mood, how does that affect your performance? What about interacting with others or dealing with difficult people? Do you deal with situations better when you feel good? Of course you do.

Taking the First Step

I know it’s hard to find time to exercise especially if you don’t find it fun or you are embarrassed about your level of fitness. Relax. No one cares.

All great achievements start with a simple step forward. Nothing too grandiose. Nothing monumental. Just a simple realization that something has to change.

To help you get moving, consider some of the tricks I use to stay healthy:

Disclaimer: Please consult a physician before doing any exercise. I want you to be fit but I also want you to be safe about it.
  • Start slow: Any kind of physical movement is beneficial. So, start slow and ease into it. Maybe walk for 20 minutes or swim or ride a bike with you kids.

  • Pick a goal: Goals are powerful motivators and fitness goals are a great way to get motivated. For your first fitness goal, choose a modest one. After you achieve it, start to make them more and more challenging.

  • Recruit friends: Peer pressure is a great way to stay on the fitness track. Nothing gets you going like your buddy waiting out front for that run you promised to go on.

  • Mix it up: Exercise can be boring. Do some dance, lift some weights, play tennis or just hike in the forrest. By mixing it up, you keep it interesting.

  • Sign up for an event: Organized events are great ways to set a fitness goal. Once you sign up, let everyone know. This will be a sure way to keep that peer pressure up.

  • Raise money for charity: Raising money for charity gives you an additional reason to stick with the routine. When others depend on you, you are more likely to follow through.

  • Encourage others: Be a coach or advocate for fitness. Get others involved and watch what happens. It’s an amazing site to inspire someone to get healthy.

  • Join a team: My first triathlon I did with Team in Training. Not only did they teach me the proper way to train, race and even eat, we raised a ton of money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Talk about motivating!

  • Wake up early: Waking up just 30 minutes earlier can be a boon to your fitness. It will also energize your day by getting you mind and body awake and ready to lead.

You Can Do It

Don’t be afraid of getting healthy. Don’t judge yourself again others. Remember, our own worst enemy is ourselves. We trick ourselves into doing the easy things because we are too busy, too stressed, overworked or not skilled enough.

The fact is, every single one of us can get healthy and stay healthy. Sure, it will be difficult but you will be amazed at how you will crave that 5k run or bike ride or yoga class once you see the results.

Once you get hooked, you will sustain a healthy lifestyle that will prepare you to not only successful lead yourself but lead others as well.

Take-a-Way: Stress is one of your biggest enemies. Being and staying healthy will combat stress like nothing else.

Things to Ponder

  1. List all the items you eat in a typical day. How many of these are stress coping foods? Write down how these foods make you feel. The next time you are stressed, resist eating and instead go for a walk.

  2. Write down the things you do when you are stressed? Are these helping or hurting your health? Take one hurtful item on the list and eliminate it from your life.

  3. Recruit one friend to do a physical activity with you at least 3 times a week. Plan the activity around a healthy meal afterwords.

  4. Recall the last time you were sick. How were your decision making skills affected? What about your motivation? Write a paragraph or two about how you felt and performed.

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.