Executive Stress

Executive Stress

Stress is a killer for the average South African executive. On top of the normal everyday hassles of being the head of a household and all the responsibility that goes with it, he/she has to contend with the pressures of working in a highly stressed work environment and live in a country that has its own problems.

Generally, as an executive, you have to make decisions that are going to impact on people’s lives and your company financially on a daily basis. These decisions have to be well thought out, but more often than not, you have a make a choice based on scant information and under time pressure. This can’t be healthy for anyone.


Symptoms of executive stress include depression, tiredness, headache, listlessness, irritability, anxiety and coffee and sugar cravings, amongst others. The symptoms are all signs that your mind and body are simply not coping with the pressures they are being subjected to. Keep in mind that these pressures can also be mental and here I don’t mean depression as that’s a symptom. I mean where the executive/manager starts making “what if”? scenarios in his/her head. What if the project goes pear-shaped? What if the money doesn’t arrive on time? What if I can’t pay my workers this month?

These are all scenarios that can (and often do) play out in a decision-maker’s head as he/she faces the everyday challenge of not only keeping his/her job, but adding perceived value to the company and making the right decisions.

These mental games only add to the stress that is already experienced through real issues that the executive has to deal with and it’s a vicious circle, as these mental scenarios tend to feed off each other and put the executive’s mindset in an even worse state.

So what can be done about executive stress?

Firstly, you need to start eating the right foods. Coffee and sugar only provide a temporary high followed by a “crash” which needs supplementing with more coffee and sugar. That’s a roller coaster that you don’t want to be on. Substitute coffee and sugar over a period of months with tea and herbal teas without sugar.

Eat protein Protein contain the building blocks for serotonin and dopamine, the “feel good” and “reward” neurotransmitters in your brain.

Take a multivitamin that is chelated. This type of vitamin is more readily absorbed in your body. Better still, get your vitamins, amino acids and trace elements from a natural source, such a spirulina.

Combat stress with adaptogens that are proven to stabilise and normalise body function. In fact, adaptogens are part of the Russian Cosmonaut’s official diet program. If they work for them in their highly stressful environment, they’ll work for you too!

Don’t eat junk food! It’s very easy when you are rushed to eat food “on the go” and that typically means fast food. Don’t do it, it will only slow you down and make you lethargic. Rather keep some protein energy bars with you to snack on, or some trail-mix nuts to keep you going. Have crudité for lunch or a chicken and salad. If you can’t get them at work, buy them at your favourite retail store and prepare them the night before.

Drink less alcohol. It’s always a temptation to drink at executive functions (well, it’s expected of me) and to come home and have a stress-reliever drink or two (or three). It’s also quite easy to drink your way through the weekend with visits to friends and parties. The problem is, alcohol puts tremendous stress on your body and brain, particularly your liver and kidneys. Alcohol is in fact a poison and your body treats it as such. Why do you think you have a hangover? If alcohol is affecting your home or work life, then it is definitely time to seek counselling.

Quit smoking. There are no half-measures here. Smoking will kill you and that’s proven scientific fact. There are thousands of chemicals in a cigarette that are harmful to your body, including many that are known poisons and carcinogens (that’s CANCER-producing). Smoking does NOT help you cope with stress at work. It’s a deadly habit that will cause sickness and death.

Here come the dreaded one – exercise! You can’t expect to be healthy if you sit at your desk for 8-10 hours every day. At the very least, go for a half hour brisk walk after work to help you wind down. Take your kids/dog/wife/girlfriend with you, and turn it into a family time.

Going to Gym is fine and filled with good intentions, but first start walking and then jogging before you start thinking of joining a Gym. Get the basics right before you waste your money on a membership that you’ll use for 2-3 months and then give up. Gyms know this, so they overbook their gyms membership.

Is it worth it?

Lastly, ask yourself “is this worth it”? You might have a great lifestyle, but are you truly enjoying it? Do you come home exhausted and drink through the weekend (which adds more stress to your body and mind)? Are you there for your wife and kids? You might be doing this BECAUSE of your husband/wife! Are you there for yourself? What’s your end goal? Discuss this with those closest to you and who look into your life.

It might be time to make a change…for the better!

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