In today's fast-paced business world, there is little time to think about the health risks posed by work-related stress. Michael Jones, editor of Chief Executive Officer magazine, looks at some of the ways to relax and reduce stress.
Too much stress in the workplace makes you twice as likely to die from heart disease – and long-term stress at work can be as dangerous for your health as gaining 40lbs in weight. In the US and the UK we underrate the significance of stress as a major killer. But in Japan there is a word for death by overwork – karoshi – and victims of stroke or heart disease that are proven to be work related are eligible for state compensation.
RELAX AND RECUPERATE
You can, however, minimise the dangers of work-related stress by taking some quality time away from the pressures of the boardroom.
There are several kinds of relaxation that have been proven to not only reduce stress and improve your chances of a long, happy life, but also improve concentration, alertness and workplace effectiveness – making you a better boss as well as a healthier one.
Massage has been proven to cause a significant decrease in anxiety and respiratory rates. It generates an increase in white blood cells, which leads to an improved immune system. Research has also shown that massage increases blood circulation and lowers blood pressure and heart rate, as well as reducing the build-up of fatty deposits.
All these elements help make heart attack and stroke (the two biggest killers worldwide) much less likely. And whilst massage shouldn't be seen as a substitute for exercise, it can compensate for lack of exercise because it stimulates weak or inactive muscles.
With lower-back pain now costing British businesses an estimated £5bn a year, it's worth considering yoga as part of your relaxation programme. Yoga improves posture and can help alleviate the symptoms of back pain as well as acting as a powerful preventative measure for musculoskeletal problems. The yogic poses that make your body more flexible and increase muscle strength can reduce fat build-up and improve circulation.
The meditative aspect of yoga can also be an important tool in ridding the mind of anxiety, promoting positivity and calmness and increasing compassion – all useful qualities for the modern workplace that places more importance on 'soft' management qualities.
Roger Elliott, MD of personal development training company Uncommon Knowledge, believes that the key to using relaxation techniques successfully is to build them into your routine. "The motivation to continue," he says, "then comes from the results you get."
STRESS IN THE CITY
For the city executive in London wanting to unwind after (or during) a long day, Richard Ward's Metrospa offers the ultimate in relaxed luxury at his Sloane Square salon.
Ward's team offer a whirlpool pedicure throne, nail bars with plasma screens and aromatherapy de-stressing areas. The Metrospa also boasts the UK's only pregnancy beauty couches in the treatment rooms.
The cool, clean lines of the sophisticated decor create a fabulous atmosphere to relax in before and after each session.
A full body massage from an expert masseur is just the ticket for the ailing executive needing to rebalance fast-fading energy flows after a hard day's slog at the office. Fusing together massage techniques from east and west, the experts at spas like Richard Ward are able to ease away tension and relax stressed muscles by working on pressure points and using blended oils.
If you think aromatherapy, massage or yoga seem a bit fey or indulgent for a go-getting high achiever – think again. Relaxation increases the production of endorphins in the brain to give effective right-brain stimulation. This will improve concentration levels, sending you back to work rejuvenated and able to work more effectively.
Your sleep patterns will be better, which again aids concentration, and you'll be a better decision maker. And you'll benefit from reduced levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, which will make you a calmer, more approachable figure to colleagues and juniors.
It has been shown that managers with a more relaxed outlook generate better results from employees.
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
This new outlook will help you take the company in the direction you want it to go in, instead of spiralling into anxiety, overwork and frustration. The benefits of relaxation on the company's bottom line and on your own executive performance might not be tangible assets that can be measured, but the value that can be generated in the long term is undeniable. Suddenly, relaxation seems to be a sensible financial decision – high results for low cost.
Planning a relaxation regime and sticking to it is much easier than you might think. It's simply a matter of commitment. Executives can worry so much about the next 'vital' thing on the agenda that they forget the true meaning of the word – things that are 'of life'.
Meeting the next deadline is important, but you won't achieve your potential without putting the greatest premium on your own long-term health. So next time you're getting stressed because something is 'vital', remember what it really means: physical and mental vitality.
You showed enormous personal commitment to get where you have in your business life. Now you can show this strength of will to your body as well. Giving yourself some valuable pampering time should be an important component of your working life. You'll be a happier, more enriched person as a result – and a better executive too.