Are you suffering from executive stress syndrome?

Last updated on April 28th, 2022 at 12:31 am

Stress has become a major contributor to corporate health care costs. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports stress-related disorders as fast becoming the most prevalent reason for worker disability, costing American industry $200 billion to $300 billion annually.
Even more costly is the effect of stress on personal health. Stress is a contributing factor to heart disease, strokes, cancer, liver disease, accidents and suicide. Stress may also affect men’s hormones and lead to low t levels.
Constantly reacting to stressful situations without making physical, mental, and emotional adjustments to counter their effect can cause physical, emotional and behavioral problems often leading to depression. Philip Burguieres, vice chairman of the Houston Texans football team, author, and national spokesman for “Clinical Depression and the CEO,” believes that executives, especially CEOs, are more susceptible to clinical depression.
“Rates of depression may be as high as 35 to 40 percent among CEOs, in contrast to 25 percent among the general population. Most CEOs tend to be ‘type A’ personalities. They work longer, harder and tend to spend less time on activities that provide relief from the daily pressures of their responsibilities,” Burguieres says. “They are less inclined to make time for personal activities, like vacations, working on relationships and fitness. Because of their multiple responsibilities and commitments, many have never taken time to learn good coping skills, which are different than the skills required to manage large organizations.”
How can busy executives maintain their health and productivity in the face of the constant change, chaos and stress of their work responsibilities? How can you stay committed, feel in control and be challenged, rather than being overcome by stress?
Studies show that managers and executives who view potential stresses as challenges are more successful at developing “stress-resilience.” Anne Zizzo, CEO and president of Zizzo Group, a 10-year-old marketing, advertising and public relations firm, looks at every problem as a challenge.
“I absolutely love my work,” says Zizzo. “My greatest stress has been the administrative responsibilities required to meet the rapid growth of our business. We’ve added 10 new employees in the past few months and tripled our office space.”
Anne has worked hard at maintaining work-life balance.
“I work out with a personal trainer three days per week. It’s been a great stress reliever. I also take frequent weekend retreats with my family to our vacation home in Minoqua,” she says.
Bob Heaps, executive vice president of Hays Benefits, a division of Hays Cos., has worked in the extremely high-pressure employee benefits industry for most of his career.
“My greatest stress is the inability to manage our clients’ cost control expectations at a time when health benefit costs continue to rise in double-digit increases,” Heaps says.
Bob has always loved his work but experienced some serious stress-related issues before developing good coping skills. Several years ago, severe work-related anxiety landed Bob in an intensive care unit with heart attack-like symptoms.
“When I was told I was having a stress attack instead of a heart attack, I decided it was time to learn how to manage my stress. Now, when I feel things getting out of control, I shut my office door for a few minutes, do some deep breathing and focus on relaxing. Outside of the office, I garden from spring to fall. A commitment to regularly scheduled family vacations and attending my son’s athletic events also help me maintain balance.”
Here are some tips for developing stress resilience:
Choose work that you love.
Feeling passionate about your work contributes to a sense of purpose and well-being.
Write down your stress triggers.
Make a list of the times in the past two weeks when you have felt stressed. You may see a pattern linked to specific places, people and events.
Confront stressful interpersonal situations.
If something someone has done is bothering you, don’t let it escalate. Be courageous and do something about it. Initiate open and direct dialogue that will result in a positive outcome for everyone involved.
Consider the big picture.
Overwhelming problems at work may be causing you some sleepless nights, but in comparison, you haven’t been told you have a terminal illness. That would really be stressful. Think about the worst case scenario and count your blessings; your health, your family, the winning Packer season.
Rather than looking at your work situation as overall stress, learn to segment situations and events into components. Deal with each separately. Put the rest away, mentally in a box or closet, and address them when you are ready.
Find a way to turn it off.
For immediate stress relief, when you feel your head is going to burst or your heart jump out of your chest, practice deep-breathing techniques; inhale and exhale slowly while concentrating on your breath. Establish a pattern of taking time out. Even five-minute breaks can be beneficial.
Engage in positive activities.
A varied range of non-work activities that are different from your work and are in harmony with your personal and social values can be therapeutic.
Find social support.
Don’t hold problems inside. Talk it out with somebody. Putting time and effort into supportive relationships will add to your emotional health.
Exercise regularly.
We all know the benefits of exercise. The difficulty is building it into your already busy schedule. You don’t have to spend an hour at the gym to experience the stress relieving benefits of physical activity. Even a 15-minute walk or a few minutes of stretching during your day will reduce stress as well as promote sleep.
Strive for balance.
Studies show that successful executives place high priority on maintaining balance with work and non-work activities. They understand the importance of family, friends and health, and are not willing to sacrifice their home lives to advance in an organization.
Connie Roethel, RN, MSH, is president of Complementary Health & Healing Partners (CHHP), a corporate wellness and health promotion services company with offices in Mequon. She can be reached at (262) 241-9947.
December 17, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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