Executive Stress: It’s Tough at the Top

Last year I posted a blog about work-related stress management (click here). Today, I’m writing about a specific sub-section of it known as ‘executive stress.’ Being a director or CEO, being in charge, hiring and firing, dealing with the day-to-day problems of everyone else below you, it’s no surprise that executives can come with their own special brand of work-related stress. But, what can you do about it? 

It’s not for nothing that there are expressions such as, ‘it’s lonely at the top,’ and ‘it’s tough at the top.” Quite often it can be both. Sure, there are pleasures and rewards, but there are also trials and tribulations that, if not handled in the right way, can give rise to that particular brand of nasty known as ‘executive stress.’

It’s not a buzzword or an exclusive ‘my stress is better than your stress’ term, but a description that encompasses the hazards that can come with being chairman, director or CEO, such as feeling the need to be there all the time, on hand and in control of everything, the subtle art of delegation, management styles that can vary from passive to aggressive and all the way back again, usually in a nanosecond, never quite getting over the nastiness of firing people, dealing with the fact that, on a daily basis, the buck inevitably stops with you and, the fear that you don’t quite know what you are doing and are in danger of being ‘found out’ and more.

All that pressure can all-too-quickly accumulate. However, research has shown that managers who are less prone to stress and who are more focussed on personal development make for much better leaders.

That’s all nice in theory, but what about the practice?

Both Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy are highly regarded and highly effective tools to help manage stress, build emotional and mental resilience, focus on personal development and help you to be the type of head who can keep their head when all others around you are losing theirs.

CBT takes the premise that it is not the events in life that disturb you, but the beliefs that you hold about those events. It teaches you how to identify and dismantle those unhealthy beliefs and how to replace them with more healthy and functional belief systems, thereby leading to a much happier captain of industry.

CBT is a rational approach to problem solving that is good for you, good for your state of mind, good for your staff and good for your business.

Hypnotherapy meanwhile, whilst not just being an awesome tool for relaxation, can also help you reflect, change how you feel about yourself, and deal with the demands of your position in a much more effective way.

Jonathan was a typical case in point, it all went wrong for him when he was promoted from head of department to executive director.

“I felt pressured by the managing director, who was my immediate superior,” he said. “I felt she had unreasonable expectations of my immediate performance and also undermined me in front of other department heads, who used to be my equals but who were now, technically, my subordinates. As a result of that, I also felt that certain individuals were not respecting me. Sadly, I wasn’t behaving in a way that garnered respect. I became surly and uncooperative at work and was short and snappy with my wife when at home.”

He said that CBT helped him understand that he had a fear of confrontation with his director and rigid demands about how he should be treated by other people. As he worked on these beliefs he developed a much better management style, less passive-aggressive and more authoritarian, but also more calm and fair.

“When I decided to have a word with my director about how I felt when she talked to him, she apologised,” said Jonathan. “it turned out that she too was feeling pressurised by her position. I even recommended CBT and hypnotherapy to her.”