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CEO Stress, Aging And Mortality Rates. How To Reduce Stress In An "Always On" World

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

CEOs and leaders are under more pressure than ever before. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, are starting to demonstrate behaviours or thought patterns which are different, concerning you or your family it is time to start making changes for yourself, your team and your loved ones.

The picture below (credit Getty Images and Bloomberg) shows James Donald the CEO of Starbucks before and after the stock market crash. The first in 2005 and the second in 2008. Using machine learning software, it was estimated that after the crash he looked older than his actual age.

A study shown here in 2020 here looked at 1600 CEOs, stress, aging and death. They utilized machine learning for age estimation. Then also looked at the parameters surrounding the death. They found that CEOs of companies in states which had laws preventing hostile takeovers were more likely to live 2 years longer. They would also stay longer in their jobs. Indicating that the stress of a potential takeover was significant. In other aspects of the study they also found that there was a shorter lifespan for CEOs where their tenure included increased job demands caused by industry downturn. Especially now this is relevant.

CEOs are supposed to be resilient. We often do not see the signs of stress. In some cultures they are not allowed to show this as this may pose a threat to the viability of the company. Especially in Asia and the Middle East, showing any form of what would be considered to be weakness is frowned upon.

A recent study by Cigna, a U.S. health services company which can be found here from 2020 , found anxiety levels increased among workers in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Cigna found that 63% of respondents in Singapore said they suffered from work-related stress in April, versus 58% in January, before shutdown measures were imposed. In Thailand, 52% reported feeling stressed, up from 48%. Hong Kong's ratio went up up to 47%, from 46%.

Due to working from home there has been a culture of “always on” with many people not taking the time or being allowed to distinguish between home and work life.

I work with many C Level leaders who are experiencing high stress levels like never before. Here are some ideas to start to recognize this and manage yourself through for high resilience and health.

Notice what is happening

It is OK to feel stressed. This has been part of everyday life at the moment for many people. Yes, even CEOs. In the past stress has possibly protected you from danger to a degree. Recognise this. Accept this and then work out how you are going to make a choice to feel differently. Will this stress serve you well to increase your decision making capability and actions or will it hinder you? If it will serve you maybe it is ok to feel this. If not how will you make change?

Take action

Make a change in state. Move around. This increases the blood flow to the brain and increases cognitive function. Movement has been proven to help reduce stress.

Move out of your current surroundings

Get out into the street. Going to a park or outside of your building and being mindful when you do this reduces stress. Actively see your surroundings. See each building and it's windows. Notice the shine. See each leaf and flower. Listen to the sounds around you. REALLY FOCUS on this for the time you leave the office until you get back. If thoughts about your work bubble up, that is ok. Notice them, accept them and then go back to practicing your focus on the here and now, where you are. This actively reduces stress levels and will help you refocus. I can hear people saying “I don’t have time for that!” Yes you do and 10 minutes per day doing this may change your life, decrease your stress, increase your lifespan and therefore make you look younger according to our above study!!!!

Write it down

Some people find that writing down what is happening can work for them to reduce stress. Just putting the words onto paper, or maybe dictating them onto your phone can help and be very cathartic.

Talk to someone

As hard as this may be. Speak to someone who can help you. Executive coaching was proven to reduce stress in a study here. Sometimes, just saying the words out loud can help. As an Executive Coach I work daily with people working with accelerating their performance, but also through personal challenges. This person may be a coach or a psychologist, but it will certainly help to have an expert who is non biased, offers a confidential sounding board and is qualified to help you move forward.

It can be tough to admit and sometimes recognize when you are developing a stress related response or behaviour, but as the studies above have shown, just making some small adjustments can greatly improve the quality and even length of your life.

Caroline Langston is the Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an Executive, Personal and Career Development Coaching company in Hong Kong and New York. She is also the Founder of a nonprofit providing free information and coaching to people who are unemployed. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for success and happiness in their careers and lives. She is degree qualified with a Certificate in Professional Coaching Mastery from the ICF, Certificate in Team Coaching from the EMCC. Also further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level.

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