Feeling Stressed? Don’t Suppress
As a CEO you are under pressure seemingly from all sides. Maybe you feel squeezed by the need to make more revenue without more staff. Perhaps you are suffocating from long work hours with no end in sight. Stress can leave you irritable, tired and short-tempered. That is not a good place to be for CEO-level decision-making.
Conventional wisdom tells us to take that emotional churn and suck it up, get over it, or just plow through. Research now shows that suppressing the emotion generated by a stressful event negatively impacts memory. Suppression can be done by suppressing the appearance of emotion or suppressing our feelings of emotion. Both take energy away from your attention. The more energy you direct to suppression the less energy is available for memory particularly accurate memory. Keeping your cool comes at a cognitive cost.
And yet, it’s what we’ve been encouraged to do. We fight emotional reactions in stressful situations by saying. “I’m not going to let this get to me. It isn’t worth getting upset about. Don’t think about it. Just. Let. It. Go.” Have you noticed that the more you say, “I’m not going to think about it” the more you think about it? Exactly. Research validates that the harder you work at suppression the less cognitive energy is available for memory or decision-making.
All this runs counter to the persona of the calm, cool, collected leader. And yet you don’t want to yell, stomp your feet or have a tantrum. So what are your options?
Consider the emotion. Thinking about emotional suppression doesn’t work but consciously examining your feelings does. Research shows that people who probe their feelings actually deactivate the fight/flight response. It seems counterintuitive. But when you hold your emotion up to the light, roll it around, and give it a name, it validates the emotion and settles the nervous system. An added bonus is that cognitive functioning is less impacted. Your memory is not impaired and you can more objectively view the situation and your options.
Reframe the situation. You can also reframe the situation. Reframing is when you ask yourself, “Is there another way of looking at this?” Think about those long work hours. You can view them as a requirement of a slave-driving boss (and suck up any appearance of annoyance) or you can view them as a choice to invest in your future. What about the stress of increasing revenue with no new staff? You can view that as an unreasonable expectation (but you best not show your aggravation) or you can validate those feelings and see the challenge of finding creative new ways to accomplish the work.
When you reframe the situation your brain and body calm down and you retain more cognitive power.
When stress conjures up an emotional situation hit – stop trying to suppress it. You only make it worse. Instead, acknowledge the emotion and ask yourself if there are other ways to look at the situation. You will find yourself with a calmer frame of mind which enables you to cognitively choose the best response…the response worthy of a leader.