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N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.

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Executive Stress

Do you really know what stress is? According to Webster Dictionary stress is: "mental, emotional, or physical tension or strain." There are two different kinds of stress -- the kind that makes you feel overwhelmed (i.e.: when you have too many things to do), and the kind that makes you feel excited (i.e.: when you are looking forward to something). However, both "positive" and "negative" stress has the same physical effect on your body when left unchecked -- they deplete your reserves and leave you drained. The only solution is to either make a conscious effort to spend more time in a lower gear, or take time in-between bursts to rest and recuperate.

In my coaching practice, I often see stress impacting a number of my executive clients.  The impact on their decision making power is severely compromised by stress. From a neuroscience perspective, stress  increase in the body's  production of cortisol and adrenaline  to prepare it for flight or flight.  When this happens excessively, you compromise your ability to develop new neurons and actually kill existing neurons.  Thus, short-term memory is affected, misinterpretations can occur, retention is reduced to name a few. So managing stress is not just a nice thing for executives to do, it is critical!

Mind Tools has suggested 3 different Physical Relaxation Techniques to help Relieve Stress:

Deep Breathing:

  • Take 10 deep breaths
  • Relax your body further with each breath

Progressive Muscular Relaxation:

  • The idea behind PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly contracted as possible
  • Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds
  • Then, relax the muscles normally
  • Then, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed as possible

The Relaxation Response:

  • Sit quietly and comfortably
  • Close your eyes
  • Start relaxing the muscle of your feet and work up your body relaxing muscles
  • Focus your attention on your breathing
  • Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out
  • Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out


Things are always heating up for the country's top executive.  I've always wondered what President Obama does to stay calm.